Friday, August 7, 2015

The big loser in last night’s debate is anyone who believes in birth control

Watching the Republican debate last night made me feel like a westerner spending a lot of time with the Inuit Indians in the frozen Northwest and not understanding the difference between the various colors in the snow that they keep naming, all of which look like the same exact yellow to me.

I sure as heck couldn’t find much of a difference between any of the candidates, except in matters of style and in their relative abilities to speak plain English. For all their bantering and posturing, all of them said practically the same things, the verbal equivalent of all those colors in the snow—it all looks like the same yellow.

None of last night’s debaters like the Iran nuclear deal. None of them like Planned Parenthood and most of them oppose a woman’s right to control her own body. Most of them want to repeal Obamacare. None of them like government regulations or unions. All of them misrepresented the problems with the economy. All of them made at least one outrageous misrepresentation.

Rand Paul stood out as being opposed to warrantless government poking into the lives of American citizens, but he made his point in such an inarticulate and flustered way that I doubt few in the audience got it. Trump also stood out for the outrageous leaps of logic in his speech—which I see as more of a sign of a poor communicator than a bad thinker, although he is that, too. He also stood out for being the only candidate to refuse to support the Republican nominee, no matter who it might be, holding out the possibility that he would run as an independent if denied the Republican nomination.

With the differences between the Republican candidates little more than hair-splitting, we can only measure the winners and losers on matters of style. Here there was a great contrast: the angry Trump, the sarcastic Christie, the slightly rumpled and sober Kasich. The Nixonian-paranoid style of Scott Walker. The professorial detachment of Jeb Bush.

The real question is which of these styles will Americans find the most appealing, and history can help us venture a guess. Since the advent of television campaigning with the 1960 election, Americans have seemed to like handsome and smoothly articulate young men in their 40s or early 50s. John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all qualify on this count, and Bush II represents the countrified version. Whenever someone has won the presidency with only slight experience, it has always been a handsome and charismatic young man.  

For that reason, I’m predicting that Marco Rubio will get the biggest bounce in the wake of last night’s event.  He is not only the most boyishly handsome of the candidates, but also the best spoken, in terms of talking in simple terms, not skipping steps in constructing his argument, selecting the right word, speaking in complete sentences and avoiding the mistakes of logic that stem from a lack of knowledge of the English language. If there is any candidate who could overcome the enormous gap in accomplishments, experience and capabilities between these midgets and Hillary Clinton, it’s the one who noted that gap last night, Rubio.

But it doesn’t matter whether I’m right or wrong about Rubio getting the biggest bounce from last night’s debate. All these men hold almost identical positions.

American voters should keep that one thought in mind in evaluating all of these candidates: all 10 of the men on stage last night will act in precisely the same way as president.

Consider, for example, the Republican’s bĂȘte noire of the moment: Planned Parenthood. All of these candidates are in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood. Now they may say they’re doing it because they are against abortion or the use of fetal tissue to help cure diseases. But if we look beyond their words to what would occur if Planned Parenthood went out of business, it’s clear that they are really talking and acting against birth control. Anyone who believes that birth control should be legal and readily accessible to all should beware any of these Republican candidates.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wall Street Journal writer says “Thank God for Atom Bomb,” frees candidates to say anything without fear of embarrassment

Bret Stephens, a frequent opinion columnist for the Wall Street Journal has essentially freed politicians of both parties to say anything they like—no matter how outrageous, offensive or unfactual—knowing they will not have made the most embarrassing statement of the decade. That honor now goes to Bret, who isn’t really all that much of a maverick, for writing a piece in praise of the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago, under orders of U.S. President Harry S. Truman.

Stephens ends the piece with the sentence that also forms its headline: “And thank God for the atom bomb.”

How offensive can you get? It’s absolutely incomprehensible that someone would want his or her deity to bless nuclear weapons. The implication is that the world is better off because a large and growing number of nations can destroy mass numbers of people in seconds, poisoning hundreds of thousands of others with radiation-based diseases that will continue the killing for decades to come.

The article starts from the point of view of a young American soldier—later a writer of cultural history—who remembers his relief to learn that he didn’t have to become part of a Japanese invasion force. Stephens uses this anecdote by Paul Fussell to suggest that the best justification for the atom bomb is that it saved the lives of American soldiers. But as he admits himself later in the article, no one really knows if dropping the bombs saved lives, of if so, how many. Stephens stacks his speculation with numbers and ideas that are supposed to make us conclude that Truman did the right thing, because he spared an estimated 7,000 American causalities a week. 

But before Stephens makes his case, he first has to insult the hundreds of thousands of people who join in anti-nuclear rallies or comment on the horrors visited on the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His statement is so shameful that I wonder if he or any of the Journal editors read the paragraph: “In all the cant that will pour forth this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs—that the U.S. owes the victims of the bombings an apology; that nuclear weapons ought to be abolished; that Hiroshima is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man; that Japan could have been defeated in a slightly nicer way…” A desire to end war is cant. The realization that nuclear weapons are too horrific to use is cant. The idea that it was inhumane to incinerate 240,000 civilians by pushing two buttons a few days apart is cant. The factual record of Japan’s willingness to end the war before we dropped the first atom bomb is cant.

The only thing cant is Stephen’s reasoning—he can’t seem to understand that certain acts are so terrible that there can’t ever be a reason to justify committing them.

The basic premise behind Stephens’ argument is that in wartime, we can justify all actions, no matter how intrinsically inhumane they are. Stephens and the Journal’s editorial board did support the use of illegal torture by the Bush II Administration, but they also wanted to invade Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from unleashing what turned out to be imaginary “weapons of mass destruction” on the region. And the fact that Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people sent Stephens and the Journal into a freaking frenzy.

The best I can determine is that Stephens believes that extreme acts of inhumane brutality should never be allowed unless they are committed by the United States.

Stephen ends the article by stating that it was the specific horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that compelled Japan to develop a less martial society and praises the United States for forgiving Japan its sins and helping the land of the rising sun to rebuild. Thus instead of wringing our hands for living in the land that committed the single two most ghastly and immoral acts in human history (the Holocaust, the death toll from British imperialism and the forced starvation of the Ukraine all consisting of a series of acts), we should instead pat ourselves on the back to celebrate Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  And instead of associating these gruesome acts with an “insipid pacifism salted with an implied anti-Americanism,” Stephens believes that we should learn the lessons of having a strong leader willing to do what it takes and not feel guilty about it.

Usually I spend some time on the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki apologizing for my country. This year I will apologize not just because we dropped the bomb but also because apologists for nuclear destruction still exist and thrive in the United States.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Papal encyclical puts Pope on side of progressives, but ignores need for family planning

By Marc Jampole

The Democratic Party would do well to strip the religious references and theological discussions from Pope Francis’s recent papal encyclical on the environment and place what’s left into its 2016 platform. Unfortunately, many Democrats may find Francis’ program too radical to implement, as it would take money out of the pockets of most Americans other than the poor.  In the encyclical, Francis proves to be a stand-up guy, on the side of angels, progressives, scientists and the human race.

At the request of a good friend, I read the entire encyclical, which is titled On the Care of Our Common Home.  Now if it were me, I would take it for granted that the Earth is our common home and that it is our job as humans collectively to care for it. But the Pope being the Pope, Francis used religious precedent to demonstrate that it is his responsibility to comment on the matters at hand and to demonstrate that we do share a common home.  

The Pope makes a very clear message: The rich nations must pay to clean up the world they polluted and, with the transition to a world based on non-fossil fuels must come a more equitable distribution of the “common good,” which at one point Francis says includes the climate. Francis explicitly connects the depletion of our natural resources with consumer society, suggesting that we of the industrialized world will have to reorient our concerns away from crass material possessions. Francis ties being a good Catholic directly to abating and addressing global warming and developing a non-fossil fuel society.  The way to god, under Francis, is not only through the Church, but also through our actions.

Another causal connection Francis makes is between the privatization of land and resources and the decline in the overall quality of human life. It’s an example of the global inequality that the Pope sees everywhere. He blames the current economic paradigm for degrading the environment to make the rich richer and the wealthy nations wealthier. He terms the collective pollution of the wealthy—mostly northern—nations, their “ecological debt,” which they owe the poorer nations of the south.

The Pope makes some very specific recommendations, all of a general nature:
  • Replace fossil fuels with renewable fuel sources.
  • Develop a lifestyle that is not based on the consumption of ever more goods and services, which essentially entails redefining what constitutes the good life.
  • Do not create a “carbon credit” market, which will be used as an excuse to keep polluting.
  • Allow poor nations to develop their economies and thereby place the burden of cleaning up the environment on the wealthy nations.
  • Set as the goal of politics and government not the facilitation of an economy dominated by a search for technology-driven efficiency, but one that serves all human life and protects our common home.

All in all, Pope Francis’ encyclical on environmental issues is a courageous document which tends to question the basic premises of modern industrialized civilization and recognizes that if we are to save ourselves from the horrors that global warming will bring— pestilence, famine, resource wars and disease—we need to embrace a different set of values. Since the Catholic Church sold its soul to the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century of the Common Era, the Church has rarely said no to power, although sometimes it has preferred one power alignment to another.  We must admire Francis for saying “no” to the powers that prevent us from addressing environmental degradation. That Francis has embraced the natural sciences to bolster his argument is especially significant, since so many who try to convince us that global warming is either not occurring or not man-made evoke ancient religious texts as proof.

But unfortunately, a long-term Catholic policy prevents Francis from mentioning the single most important factor in addressing environmental degradation, resource shortages and global warming: Birth control.

Suppose, for the sake of dreaming, that every person in the world today would have just one child.  Since having a child takes two parents, in about a generation the population would begin to naturally fall and within a century, we would have somewhere between 500 million to one billion people in the entire world.  With a century of investment into recycling, solar, wind, biofuel, smart grid, water conservation, earthquake proofing, agricultural and other technologies, we could very easily support a billion people with a fairly comfortable western middle class lifestyle, especially if we follow Pope Francis’ dictates and become less acquisitive as individuals.

But what of the transition costs, some may ask.  Remember that in most places, people have it drummed into their head that the only good economy is one that is growing.  But what if we know that the economy is going to shrink because there will be fewer people to serve?  It’s such an easy problem to address.

Now as the population shrinks, labor shortages will grow everywhere, as there will be progressively fewer young people entering at the bottom rungs of the economic and age ladder while the upward part of the ladder will always be relatively larger.  The number of people retired and supported by the workforce will also be relatively larger but that impact will be offset by a small population of children to serve.  Since we will have all this demographic information in advance, we can train more people for professions serving the elderly and spend fewer resources to serve children, although hopefully more resources per capita than today’s paltry standard. All it takes is intelligent central government planning and implementing the right mix of taxes, incentives and regulations.

Additionally, developed nations can readily fill their labor shortages with people from the undeveloped world.  Western Europe has been doing just that as its native populations start to decline, e.g., in Italy and Germany.  It’s too bad that many of the locals and some governments in Western Europe are reacting to the newcomers so poorly.  After all, it is this instream of immigrants that can enable the world to make a painless transition to a shrunken human population.

The last point I want to make about the transition costs of peaceful negative population growth is that whatever they are, they’re better than war, famine, pestilence or disease. 

Humans are pushing against the upper limits of the earth’s carrying capacity for the current incarnation of our species, and natural history tells us that this situation typically leads to decline or outright extinction.  We can “right size” our species in a peaceful way or we can make a lot of people suffer.

The Catholic Church has expressed a long-standing opposition to all birth control other than abstinence and the highly unsuccessful “rhythm roulette,” despite the fact that studies show that 95% of all Catholic women practices birth control at one time or another during their lives.  Our current world leaders, even those at the forefront of the environmental movement, tend to downplay the positive impact that a zero or negative population growth campaign could have. Some want to rely on tenuous predictions that the population will peak at nine billion and then begin to gradually fall in a natural way sometime in the next century, or after a whole lot of damage has been inflicted on our environment. Many leaders in many countries are afraid to upset social conservatives, but they are also afraid to upset the economic rightwing, who in their heart of hearts know that throughout history, when populations fall, the price of labor increases and society enjoys a more equitable distribution of income and wealth. Usually the cause of population decline is war, famine or disease. Conscious population growth policies give us a gentler, less disruptive way to mitigate the enormous impact that our out-of-control population is having on the Earth.

Thus, while we should applaud the Pope for his gutsy stand on what we have to do to address global warming, we should do so with but one clapping hand until Francis and the Catholic Church change their view of birth control.