Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bernie Sanders: More Conservative than Republicans

Bernie Sanders has ignited a populist movement. Despite his early campaign being ignored by corporate media, his rallies outperformed all the Super-PAC funded candidates. Conservatives are aghast: how could so many Americans rally around a self-avowed socialist? Libertarians can't believe how many former Ron Paul supporters are showing up in Bernie's camp. Have those people no convictions? What they don't realize, and no one is saying, is this: on the issues that define the Sanders platform, he is more conservative than the Republicans.

For-profit prisons
On Thursday Bernie proposed legislation to end for-profit prisons. Upon reading the news I asked myself one question (which prompted this post): why should this be the stance of the most liberal candidate in decades? Or more so, why isn't this the stance of almost everyone? Privatized prisons encourage longer prison sentences and allow corporate profiteering off what is essentially slave labor. And who pays for this? Taxpayers, of course, and the families of the incarcerated men. The goal of incarceration should be to discourage crime, and to rehabilitate criminals and return then to society. Privatizing prisons encourages the prisons to keep as many prisoners as possible for as long as possible. Everyday a man is in prison needlessly, his family lacks a husband and father. For-profit prisons are yet another attack on the core American institution: the family.

Marxists, who conservatives claim to stand against, have a singular goal: to destroy all traditional institutions and power structures to make room for their idealized society. Family, religion, local community; all should be replaced by a single institution: the global socialist government. Any attack on the nuclear family is a leftist victory. No group in American has seen a stronger degradation of the family than blacks. 67 percent of black children are raised by single parents (source), as opposed to 25 percent for whites. The Nation Review recently put out an article highlighting the detriments of so many single-parent households. I highly recommend a read through. The takeaway is that single-parent children have significantly reduced social mobility and economic outcomes. So it shouldn't be a surprise that blacks see they are doing, on average, worse than their white counterparts. They assume institutionalized racism and they attack society's institutions and power structures, like we're seeing now across America's college campuses. Do you see the chain of Marxism in action? The attack on American families is contributing to the attack on American educational institutions.

So where is the Christian right on the issue of privatized prisons? It is certainly no where in the Christian ethos to profit off human suffering. But even more, it is not conservative. It is one more tool of cultural marxism to destroy the American family. But our cultural defenders in the Republican party, those self-proclaimed saviors of family values, are doing nothing.

Corporate power
If any issue defines the Sanders campaign, it is his defense of the middle class, and assault on the corporatocracy. The corporate behemoth is without a doubt the greatest threat to American traditional values. They own the media, control the cultural narrative, buy off the government representatives, and don't blink at destroying the middle-class whenever it is profitable. Why Republicans bend over backwards for corporations is beyond me. They have to be bought out. Sanders is defending traditional America values against creeping corporate culture and power. This is definitive conservatism.

Citizens United
Citizen's United effectively legalizes the open bribery of politicians. This Supreme Court ruling is thoroughly disastrous. Anyone interested in traditional American values like honest government and democratic rule should be horrified. Where is the conservative backlash? Why is Sanders the only candidate making a fuss about this? Even Clinton now stands against it. Why? If you read the political commentary, she was outflanked on the left by Sanders, and changed her stance to neutralize his advantage with leftists. I say baloney. What is leftist about defending American democracy? His stance is the true conservative stance. It has been very popular with voters (besides zombie Republicans) and that's why she had to change her posture. She will pretend to be against it as long as she has to, but she is making bank off of it.

Trans-Pacific Partnership
Obama's second most significant legislation (after Obamacare), TPP is a blatant attack on the cornerstone of American values, the US Constitution. A veritable give-away to corporate interests, the TPP would seriously limit the ability of the American government to regulate and control corporate activities. It's Marxist as hell; it deliberately erodes American institutions in favor of multinational entities. It should say something that it was debated in secret in the US Congress. Is anything less American than that? It should say something that Obama could not get support from it from his own party. Republicans, who foam at the mouth at the mere name Obama, enabled his 2nd most important piece of legislation. Why is this okay with Republicans? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Sanders is against it. Clinton is against it (again she changed her position to resemble his) and Rand Paul is against it. Every other Republican who doesn't stand resolutely against this, just isn't a conservative, no matter what letter is by his name.

The liberal side
Now, my point hasn't been to convince you that Bernie Sanders is a conservative. On most issues he is liberal. He was supporting gay rights well before that was trendy. He doesn't hesitate to promulgate leftists myths such as they gender pay gap or massive institutionalized racism. He is a democratic socialist, which means he does foster a stronger dependence on the state. He recently came out in support of mass Syrian immigration. This is not an inherently bad position, as long as there is some rationale behind it. But his assertion, in bold letters, is that if you don't support it you're a racist and a bigot. Basically he does pander to liberal electorates, and he does allow himself to take sides in the cacophonous left vs. right war of emotions.

However, in the matters that are most important, in the matters that have defined his candidacy, he is more conservative than his Republican counterparts. In fact the Republican often don't seem conservative at all. We need to dispel the commonly held belief that Republicans are conservative and Democrats are liberal. It really depends on how you slice the issues.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Cult of Caring

Americans are a charitable people. I mean we like to think we are....and the facts bear that out. The World Giving Index puts us at the top in the entire world. Well Myanmar takes top spot, and I say good for them. If anything we are becoming even more caring. Recently we've seen that many of the richest billionaires in America have pledged to pass their estates to charity. That's pretty amazing. It's something we can be proud of (and makes me less inclined to want to kill the rich).

But this caring has a downside. Because our culture values caring, people become subconsciously obsessed with the appearance of caring. Sometimes the cult of caring is put to good use. Salvation Army focuses their donation collection efforts in busy public areas. No one in America (minus our sociopaths) can walk by those big red buckets without the feeling of, "If I don't give something I'll look like I don't care." We might even say to the bell ringer, "I'll have some change on the way out." There, now he knows we care. Of course, Salvation Army is a wonderful organization, very little of your donation goes to overhead, and they help a lot of people. Nothing wrong with that. Or last summer we saw the viral Ice Bucket Challenge videos. It was a brilliant fundraising campaign that answered the question, "how can we bank on people's need to show how much they care, or at least fear being labeled as uncaring?" And of course this was all fine, it raised a lot of money for a good cause. But putting things in perspective, the whole phenomenon raised about half a million dollars. That'll pay for 2 PhD-holding researchers to work for about a year. Yeah it helps, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't terribly significant. But it was wildly successful in giving a venue for self-congratulatory displays of caring. (I did the challenge myself.)

Sometimes the cult of caring engages in actions that are not so beneficial, but are harmless. Last year about this time ( I think ) we saw the Pay It Forward campaign. Shoppers, particularly at coffee shops, were encouraged to pick up the tab for other patrons. The idea being that it doesn't cost you much, and it would really brighten the day of another person. But then things got weird. We saw the Pay It Forward chains, where each person got free coffee, yet paid for the person behind them. The concept was so impractical. How would you know how much the person behind you was spending? The only was to be sure their order was covered would be to pay more than the typical order. What happened to the change? (I never heard, but I suspect the baristas made a small fortune.) To simplify, let's suppose everyone got the same coffee. Then where's the charity? Only the first shopper gave away anything, and only the last one got a free coffee. Everyone in the middle was caught in some strange zero-sum strategy of ceremonial caring. Luckily the impracticality was obvious to most observers, and the trend quickly died.

Unfortunately, the cult of caring can be much more damaging than some public display of harmless irrationality. Because irrationality is dangerous when not contained to the safety of the cafe. And it leads to disaster when it enters the realm of public policy. The latest display of caring is being applied to the war-torn Syrian nation. Because Schengen-zone European countries have thrown open their borders to refugees, people now look at the US. The Europeans are making a grandiose show of caring. And they look at the US. "Oh", they say. "I guess you don't care as much." A knife into the heart of the cult of caring! Surely we must respond with a massive display of caring! Oh, most Americans are hesitant? What are they afraid of? DON'T THEY CARE AT ALL?!?!??! You'll notice that members of the cult of caring can't even fathom that a person might form an opinion based on anything but emotions, in this case the supposed emotion being fear or hatred. To them sober logic is just a tool used to justify one's emotional disposition.

In these next three sections, I'll provide three ways the cult of caring is disingenuous or harmful in their take on Syria.

Self interest
The primary motivator should always be self-interest. It's not selfish, it's logical. Putin, the emerging leader of the developed world, has said so much. He said "If the Americans would just act consistently in their self-interest, all our conflicts with them would self regulate." Russians can understand and predict us if we act in our self-interest, and they can act in a way that helps both sides achieve their goals, and avoids military confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers. But if America acts irrationally, if we try to help other nations in a way that doesn't benefit us (not to mention that American "help" using means the imposition of American-style capitalism and democracy) we cause confusion all around. Putin is the opposite of the cult of caring, he can't fathom how a national policy could be driven by emotion rather than logical reasoning.

Does it suit the American self interest to allow massive amounts of Muslim immigration? America can hardly employ it's low-skilled labor force as it is. Our laborers are already under tremendous pressure, for economic reasons and the heavy Latino immigration. Are we okay with a policy that helps in-need foreigners to the detriment of in-need Americans? Surely the end result will be more at the bottom dependent on government services. How much are we willing to pay to show we care? Will Americans tolerate a tax hike to pay for it? Furthermore, does it make sense to allow in a group of people who chronically do not assimilate in Europe? Do we really think we'll do better here? (We won't, forcing assimilation would be considered insensitive and probably racist). The number of European-born Muslims radicalizing and fighting for ISIS, or plotting terror attacks in Europe, is truly disturbing.  There are plenty of risks to this immigration proposal, what are the benefits? Is display of caring really a matter of national interest?

Refugees are nothing new. There are an estimated 60 million refugees worldwide. Yet suddenly everyone is obsessed with Syrian refugees. There are nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees, and they are long-term refugees, whereas an end to Syria conflicts is becoming likely. There are Palestinians who are 3rd generation in the refugee camps. There are Somali refugees, and Congo, and Iraqi, and Afghani. There are oppressed minorities in China, like Uighyrs and Tibetans. There have been other refugee crises in the past decade or so. The civil wars in Rwanda, the Balkans, and Chechnya generated massive numbers of refugees. There hasn't been a national rallying call for mass immigration of those peoples. Does the cult of caring prefer Syrians to all the other refugees? No they don't, mostly they don't even know what's going on. They only know they've been challenged to care.

Of course we should determine, with a sober mind, what is best for Syria, and what is best for Syrians. Will bringing Syrians to the US help them the most? No. Not by a long shot. Not by an order of magnitude, according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies. They determined that, for the cost of bringing a refugee to the US for 5 years, we could support twelve (yes, twelve!) refugees in regional refugee camps. This fact alone should be more than enough to end the debate. I hear the argument, "but we need to give them the quality of life they can't get in a refugee camp." And that is a wonderful display of caring. But the point of refugee camps isn't that every person has easy access to Starbucks. It's to not starve, and not have to watch your family be raped and murdered. It's ludicrous to think bringing one Syrian to the US is preferable to protecting twelve in the region.

We also have to look at who the refugees are. Most of the women, children, and elderly are in refugee camps in places like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Those streaming into Europe, who can survive the long trek, and pay the smuggler fees (estimates are four to ten thousand dollars each) are mostly able-bodied men. That is, those scrambling to Germany and Sweden to gain welfare checks are those least in need of the aid. Meanwhile the Syrian army is chronically short on manpower, to the point it is having trouble capitalizing on the Russian (and now French) air support. The west is practically bribing military age men to leave Syria. That only benefits ISIS! It's insane. Has there ever been a time when men were encouraged not to defend their homelands? Who will fight oppression? Who will rebuild the country if every other citizen capable of fleeing has done so?

The culture of caring is selfish, They don't give one hoot about what is best for the Syrian nation. Their concern is the self-image of compassion. It should be constrained to the realm of the coffee shop and fundraising, not matters of international importance. I'm not entirely opposed to letting some Syrians in. I have no problem with them, and as I've noted before, they have beautiful women. But the debate has become about caring vs. fear. It's a false emotional narrative. Let's make the correct decisions using logic, in a way that benefits Americans and Syrians the most.

I should add a note, because after letting this sit for a while, I realize it comes off a bit cold. It seems that many people are very put-off by the response of conservatives. I don't watch Fox News (or any news) so I don't know what they're saying. But if there is any degree of the sentiment "fuck the Syrians, it's their war and they should deal with it", I reject that principle entirely. The Syrians are being caught up in something much larger than some civil war between Muslims. Not only are regional powers involved: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, plus a money from the gulf states, but drug into this war are now global powers Russia, France, and the US. This is truly a proxy war on an epic scale. The Syrian people are being churned up. It's not their war, it really is a world war. They need our help. We absolutely should help them. I don't think the best way is mass immigration to the US, maybe it is. My point of writing this was not to refute the Syrian need for assistance, but to refute the incessant appeals to emotion being committed by both sides of the argument, by people who mostly aren't interested in trying to understand the situation.