Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hobby Politics

As you cast your ballot, what issues will guide your choices?  Do you care most about war and peace, the environment, the climate for business or educational quality? Most of us have opinions about foreign policy, about climate change and about the social safety net. We may be passionate about infrastructure, care for our veterans or openness in government but not to the exclusion of all else.

Then there are a few single issue voters.  Are you one?  Perhaps you vote exclusively based on environmental issues.  You see disaster looming if we don't halt climate change now, a disaster that eclipses all those other issues.  Or maybe the free enterprise system is your one issue.  You believe that national -- even global -- well being rest on a healthy business climate, a rising tide that lifts all boats. You'll vote for the candidates that hew closest to Adam Smith or Ayn Rand. Maybe civil liberties supersede all other issues for you.  Nothing matters more than protection of civil rights, human rights.  The importance of torture, the rights of the accused, free speech, equal treatment and religious freedom transcend all else.  These single issues are eternal values, not just today's popular stands.

I commend those single issue voters, the folks with a deep abiding passion for one big idea.  Those are the folks who speak most clearly, who effect real change.  But don't confuse them with those for whom their single issue is just a devotion to their hobby.

I live in a rural area.  Here are many single issue voters.  Few though fall into the "big idea" category.  Unless of course, gun rights and smoking marijuana can be called big ideas.

Many of my neighbors belong to the NRA and fear government coming for their guns.  Any mention of safety regulations, banning assault weapons or cheap hand guns arouses passionate opposition. No politician dares venture into that territory. Collecting weapons is a popular local hobby. So is hunting (though I've never heard anyone suggest banning hunting rifles).  Mitt Romney signed a law as governor banning automatic weapons in Massachusetts.  That troubles some of my Republican neighbors more than anything else he has done or said.

Other neighbors (rarely the same folks) will make their ballot decisions based on candidates' positions on marijuana use. The Obama administration has been chastized for raids on marijuana farms locally (Oregon law allows limited numbers of plants for medical card holders and their assignees).  Biden's association with the war on drugs renders him unfit for office according to these folks. I know Democrats who won't support the Obama-Biden team because of their opposition to marijuana.

Every now and again, I stumble into writing something guaranteed to offend my friends.  It's a character flaw.  But for the life of me, I cannot see making election decisions -- choosing the government of the world's most powerful country -- based on one's hobby.  Let's look beyond our guns and joints and seriously consider the issues that affect the other seven billion people on the planet.

If you'll do that, then I won't oppose privacy protections because they interfere with my genealogy hobby.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bye, Bye Oil

At Tuesday's debate, President Obama and Mr. Romney sparred over who was friendliest to the oil industry.  Has drilling gone up or down in the past four years? Who would make sure we sucked the maximum oil from our lands and sensitive offshore environments?

It was one of the most disingenuous arguments from both sides.  The moderator's question was about gasoline prices, now well over four dollars a gallon in the western states. Which candidate would lower gas prices?  If they actually believe more oil wells are the answer, neither stands a chance. The real problem is what happens to our oil after it's extracted.

We are not ready yet to forgo petroleum as an energy resource.  Yes, we need to invest in the transition to renewable, environmentally sound alternate energies.  But oil is still critical to our economy for the time being.  Paraphrasing Bill Clinton here, the problem is one of arithmetic.

2011 Domestic Oil Production

Total Crude Oil Extracted:  Over 2 billion barrels (2,065,172,000)
Note: equivalent to 660 million barrels refined petroleum.
Petroleum Product Exports: Half of Total (1,067,260,000 barrels)

2011 Sources of Domestic Oil

Federal Lands (mostly offshore):  One-third of Total  (626,000,000 barrels)

Daily Oil Exports

And why are we exporting half of our oil?  Petroleum is now America's number one export.  The oil industry complains that demand in the US is DOWN and therefore they must export to keep their refineries operating and to make a profit.  

It's an interesting position that they're not being allowed to drill enough and they need to export because Americans don't consume enough.  Let's stop allowing export of native fuels, leave them in the ground and keep our reserves to meet future needs.

I don't expect long-term thinking from the Koch-funded Romney.  But Mr. President, why aren't you telling the whole truth?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Are Authority and Loyalty Virtues?

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Jonathan Haidt and other researchers probing the differences between liberals and conservatives have identified five values that help define political preferences:
  • Compassion
  • Fairness
  • Authority
  • Loyalty
  • Purity
Liberals tend to place greatest importance on compassion and fairness whereas conservatives tend to value all five roughly equally.  Most interesting to me though is how that plays out in policy, especially foreign policy.

Liberals perceive the US as a wealthy country capable of offering a hand up to less privileged nations. They are motivated to act by images of people suffering.  Meager as they are, foreign aid programs that support food self-sufficiency, civil society, environmental protection, clean water, micro-credit lending, and medical care are supported by liberals.  When conflicts arise, liberals hope either to stay out of them (fairness) or prefer a peace-keeping role or sometimes intervention on behalf of whichever side represents justice. Clinton's decision to intervene in Somalia was an example of a compassionate foreign policy.  Obama's role in overthrowing Qaddafi was more pragmatic perhaps, but still a good example of the fairness motivation.  Rather than providing direct support to either side, imposing the no-fly zone over Libya allowed the rebels a fair chance.

In the past ten years, Americans have had to consider the issue of torture, not torture by foreign tyrants but by America.  The shame of Abu Ghraib and the embarrassment of water boarding, authorized at the highest levels of our government, have shaken our sense of who we are as a people.  For liberals, torture can never be permitted and there is no grey line. Compassion and fairness align with the Geneva Convention and our Constitution's 8th Amendment:

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Keep in mind as you read though that not all Democratic presidents are liberals and not all Republican presidents are conservatives.  Republican ex-general President Eisenhower spoke out against the military industrial complex and was critical of the penchant for war.

Conservatives on the other hand see the US as the world's greatest power, one whose authority dare
not be questioned.  Insulting the national honor deserves military action (though the pragmatists may hold back) and unilateral action is more respected than advocating for unified actions through the United Nations. Loyalty to America is paramount and challenging a military action is treasonous.  Conservatives might also support some foreign aid, though tend to prefer military aid to rulers loyal to America.  The loyalty test and strategic value are the determining factors.

The invasion of Iraq is an example of authority, loyalty and purity.  American authority would of course prevail and quickly.  Vice President Cheney predicted in March 2003 that the war would last "weeks, not months". Hussein's offenses against the US included threatening the President's father. Had Iraq been a Christian nation, the decision to wage all-out war would have been more difficult.  Prevailing stereotypes about Muslims though won the purity vote as well.

Perhaps an even better example was the first President Bush's invasion of Panama in 1989.  Manuel Noriega had strong CIA ties over decades and had worked closely with Bush in his role as CIA head and as vice president. He had even assisted in the Iran-Contra Affair under Reagan. Relations had soured in the 1980s though and there had been calls for military action.  In the US, the President was called a wimp for not invading.  When he did order the invasion, it was triggered by a threat against American diplomats.  Bush sent the marines and then brought the captured Noriega back to the US. The US imprisoned him from 1990 until 2007.  American authority was upheld and Noriega's disloyalty -- his turn against the US after having been an agent of it -- punished.

And what riles conservatives about President Obama's foreign policy?  Their belief that the President has apologized for America around the world.  If he had done so, he would be insulting American authority to wield power without question and he would be seen as disloyal.  Not to mention the birthers and fringe groups who rail about the President's purity.

Naturally, most Americans -- liberals and conservatives -- support war when their country is attacked (or perceived as being attacked).  The true pacifists (they're both liberals and conservative libertarians) are out-shouted and wield little influence.