Saturday, March 23, 2013

Republicans really do have an empathy problem

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is the only current Republican senator to come out in favor of marriage equality, and he did so only as a change of heart after his son came out as gay.   Portman said he wanted his son to have the same right to marry that his daughters have.

That is admirable, and it does credit to the senator for letting himself be open to feeling for his son.  That is the way people change their negative feelings toward gay men and lesbians -- by coming to know in a deeply personal or empathic way, someone who is gay and realizing what it is like for them.   That is empathy.

Nevertheless, this is a crack in the solid wall of opposition from Republicans (except a few notable exceptions who also have gay family members, like Dick Cheney, who spoke of his personal support for gay marriage in a 2008 VP debate).

When Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) was asked whether he might ever reconsider his opposition, Chambliss replied:
"I'm not gaySo I'm not going to marry one." **
Besides being a non sequiter and a rather silly response, notice that he doesn't call for a constitutional amendment.   It's sounds almost like he's saying, "It's not for me, . . . but live and let live."  So why not vote to make it legal?   Because he can only think about himself, and this isn't something that he wants.  So why should he support it for someone else?  That's a lack of empathy.

There is a different view being put out there on the blogosphere about this.   Some are suggesting that it indicates that Republicans have mostly given up the ideological, political position on it, that they're accepting the political reality.  And that individual acceptance will come as individuals have experiences that show them, through empathy, what it's like to be different.

This line of argument says:  It has ceased to be such an ideological thing for them;  now it's simply personal.   Even John Boehner, in reaffirming his opposition, made it personal:   "It's the way I was brought up. . . . It's what my church teaches."   But he seemed sympathetic to Portman's different feeling.

If so -- if it's all a matter of empathy -- and I strongly believe that this is part of the problem, but only part -- then there is more hope.  Maybe that's their problem on the economy as well -- a lack of empathy for other people's problems.

So let's start a campaign to get all Republican politicians involved in some program that pairs them with disadvantaged people, minority people, gay people, all those who are hurt by their policies -- and make them spend time with them, getting to know them on an everyday, personal level.  The object would be to put them in positions where they could change their policy positions through empathy.

And then we'd find out if it's an immutable lack of capacity, or if it's a lack of experience and perspective.


**   I just remembered.  A few years back, one of the quippish responses to the opposition to gay marriage was this:   "If you're opposed to gay marriage, then don't marry a gay person.  But don't stop others from doing it."   Maybe Chambliss remembers that, and that was his mocking reference.

For shame !!!

It has been 98 days since the massacre in the school at Newtown, CT.

In those 98 days, 2,244 Americans have died from gunshot wounds.

But the Senate has dropped the ban on assault weapons from Diane Feinstein's gun control bill, because it cannot get enough votes to pass it;  and it would kill the rest of the bill on background checks.

If the killing of 20 children and 6 adults in the Newtown school is not enough to bring us to our senses, then I despair that we will curb this gun craze any time soon.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Obama speaks truth to Israelis and Palestinians

President Obama could have played it safe on his trip to Israel and a side visit to West Bank by uttering some platitudes and then trying to exert some influence behind the scenes.

But, like his at-home strategy of trying to influence Congress by appealing directly to the American people, he did something similar on the trip.  He took a more activist position of challenging both sides to restart the peace process.

His trip to the West Bank preceded a major speech to an audience of 2000, mostly students and liberal activists.  So it was a supportive audience;  the important thing was that it was televised.  

When talking with the Palestinians, he endorsed their right to their own homeland, but he urged them not to continue their demand for an end to new settlement building as a precondition to talks.

And in his speech to Israeli's, which was aimed at the younger generation, he stressed that a peace process was both morally just and in Israel's own best interest.   And, although he urged them to stop the settlements and to empathize with the Palestianians as an occupied people, he stopped short of demanding that they halt the settlements as a precondition of talks.

Here are some significant quotes:
"Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea:  the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own."

"If we're going to succeed, . . . both sides are going to have to think anew. . . .  It is the duty of the Israeli government to at least halt the activity, so we can speak of the issues. . . .  [Continuing the settlements in the West Bank makes it] . . . very difficult to square with a two-state solution."

"Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. . . .  Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land."
He urged his audience to become involved and push their government to take the risk:
"Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this:  political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do so."

Now, as a side issue, we liberal/progressives need to take heed of that last remark:  As President, Obama is not going to take the big risks at home unless we demand that he do so.


What might have been . . .

A back story from the 2012 Republican primary campaign has been revealed:   there was a secret "unity ticket" being negotiated between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich that might have changed the nomination outcome.

The sticking point, however, was that they couldn't agree on which one of them would be the the top dog and which the VP dog.

Well, that is sort of the basic questions, isn't it?

Bad as the Romney campaign was, the duo of Gingrich and Santorum would have been twice as nauseating.   But think of the possibilities for mockery:   "The Choir Boy and the Bad Boy."  or "Mr. Cosmic Ego and Mr. Super-Ego."

Glad we avoided that one.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Study of cell phone distraction

In a study published in PLoS One, college students were asked to complete cognitive tasks that required concentration.   They were divided into two groups:   one group was in the room with someone carrying on a conversation on her cellphone;  the other group was in a room where two people were carrying on the same conversation.

The first group was far more distracted and did less well on the puzzle-solving problem.   One explanation interested me:  Our brains are set up to focus on things that are novel or unexpected, and we try to figure them out.   When you hear only one side of a conversation, each new piece of it is a surprise, and your brain gets busy trying to imagine what the other person said.   That is distracting from the task.

There's even a word for hearing half a dialogue:  it's called a "halfalogue."

Another study tested the common belief that people talk louder on a cellphone than they would in an ordinary conversation.   This is not true, according to actual measure of sound levels comparing both.  But, even so, people typically feel that the person is talking too loud.  The explanation:  when we feel we are trapped, or something is unavoidable, we tend to over-rate it.  Public cellphone use is one of the top pet peeves among Americans in a survey.

There is one counter-tactic I tried once:  jump into the conversation yourself.   Comment on what you hear, like, "Oh, my God.  How awful for you.  What did you do then?"   Apparently I didn't say it loudly enough, and I don't think the cellphoner heard me.  But I felt better.

But, think about it.   How could she objectShe's the one making her conversation public.  You can innocently counter that you thought she was eliciting suggestions or advice.  If she complains, sweetly suggest she might rather find a more private place for her private conversations.   But I'm taking bets:  10 to 1 you would, at least, be accused of being rude.

Modern life.   Bah humbug  !!


Millions on the mantle

A New York couple had no idea of the worth of the small glass bowl they bought at a garage sale for $3.   It sat there on the mantle where the cat could have knocked it off to land in pieces on the hearth below.

It turns out to be an extremely rare (only other known one is in the British Museum) Chinese ding bowl from the Song Dynasty, more than 1000 years old.   Sold at Sotheby's aution for $2,220,000.

Forget the ugly vase that Aunt Susie Belle bought in a store to give you as a wedding present.   But if there's a strange looking piece that's been in the family for generations, or that someone picked up at a flea market or garage sale . . . . might be worth checking out.

That's why Antiques Road Show is such a popular tv show.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Letter from a dying soldier to Bush and Cheney

A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. . . .  on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. . . . . On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. . . .  I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire. . . .

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

Tomas Young

March 20, 2003 - March 20, 2013

Ten years ago today,** President Bush started the Iraq war under false pretenses.

It should never have happened.   After all the killings and destruction and sectarian divisions within the country, all we can say is that Saddaam is gone and the country is a little more democratic than it was before.

But, rather than a vital, pro-Western democracy in the middle of the Middle East, we have a government that tilts more toward Tehran than to the U.S. and continuing violence and insurgents from the Sunni minority that was displaced from power.
Dick Cheney is probably the most culpable culprit in starting this war -- he and his hand-picked Rummies.  Dubya was weak and uninformed and let himself be led.

No, there's not much we can point to with pride for our intervention in another country that was no immediate threat to us.   Was it really just about oil?   Driven by an oil man who wrangled himself in the VP slot after having procured the presidency for a weak man he could control -- up to a point?

I think history is going to show that one of Bush's least examined, least heralded decisions was the one where he finally stood up to Cheney and refused to pardon his boy, Scooter Libby for lying about the outing of Valerie Plame.   We're told Bush and Cheney were barely on speaking terms after that.


**  News media have been calling March 19th the 10th anniversary, remembering that at 10:16 pm on the 19th President Bush addressed the nation, saying the invasion of Iraq had begun.    But it was already March 20th in Iraq.  And Wikipedia says it began on the 20th.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yes, John Boehner did say he agrees with President Obama: There is no immediate debt crisis.

After spending years pounding into the American psyche that "we have a huge debt crisis, John Boehner backtracked.   In an interview with Martha Raddich, he answered her clarifying question, "So you agree with President Obama?"

Boehner looked momentarily stricken, as though it pained him to say it;  then he said:  "Yes.  I agree with the President.  There is no immediate debt crisis."  He did go on to clarify that there is a severe long-range debt crisis, but it is not going to affect us in the immediate future.

How can they just change their answer like that?   Spin around on a dime and say the opposite to what they've been hammering for years -- through at least two presidential campaigns.

Well, according to some experts:  because it wasn't working for them politically.   They finally realized that the American people are not with them on all this austerity cuts in spending.

So Laurence O'Donnell went further on his tv show and said he wished Raddich had instead asked him if he agreed with Paul Krugman, who has been a rather lone voice proclaiming that there is no immediate debt crisis -- and so we should increase, not decrease government spending.   The job recovery in the private sector has been good;   it's in government jobs that there is no improvement but rather a continuing loss of public sector jobs.

Just look at the facts:   The deficit has declined steadily over the past few budget cycles.   The feared inflation and stagnant economy are not happening.   Recovery would be faster if we increased stimulus spending, but it is happening.

Rush Limbaugh sounded off in the opposite direction.  But who cares?  In fact, who really cares what John Boehner says, except that it may signal a readiness to reach a budget compromise where they actually give in on austerity and reach a grand bargain.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Hillary supports marriage equality

Hillary Clinton has announced her support for marriage equality -- something hubbie Bill did a couple of weeks ago.

Both sides in the SCOTUS hearing have long since submitted their amicus curiae briefs, but this is all about building a sense of momentum and hoping the justices will feel the tide as an indication of the people's changed intention.

In addition, a new poll out yesterday shows an astonishing leap in support for marriage equality to 58%.    It's only been about a year since a consensus of polls topped the 50% mark.

For people under 30, support is 87%.

Hearings on DOMA and Prop8 are next week, beginning March 26.


The GOP's "autopsy" report ????

Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus called it an "autopsy."   That's a rather incredible image, given that he is talking about his own party's report on its failure in the 2012 election.

An autopsy is what you do to determine the cause of death -- not to figure out what needs to be fixed in a living body.   So is Priebus admitting that his party is dead?   Is it a meaningful slip, or just a poor choice of words?

Well, whatever, it's pretty frank in its assessment.  Quoting Priebus: 
There’s no one reason we lost. . . .  Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement. … So, there’s no one solution: There’s a long list of them.” 
The report calls for enacting comprehensive immigration reform, addressing middle-class economic anxieties head-on, condensing the primary process into a shorter time, and becoming more inclusive of women and minorities.

Though it skirted the marriage equality debate, the report did say that Obama got 5 million more votes than Romney in the under 30 category and that the party needs to be more tolerant of gays and their rights. 
Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.” 
That's a pretty frank assessment.   Losing does incredible things to people's perception and honest.  Clearly, the RNC is trying to pull the party back from the right edge -- and it sounds like there was a bit of that even at the CPAC meeting too.  But then Rand Paul won the straw poll.  It'll be interesting to see how this plays out -- continued civil war?   Or choosing the only possible pathway to ever winning again?


SCOTUS, please take note.

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments, over three days, on the case to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.

With so many changes during the past year, one can definitely say that public opinion and social evolution have moved in strong support for marriage equality.   Here's a list of what happened in 2012 and the first three months of 2013:
1.  President Obama and the Democratic Party announced support for marriage equality.

2.  Three more states adopted marriage equality -- and in these states the voters did it by referndum.

3.  The U. S. military is now officially open to gay men and lesbians at all ranks;  a lesbian was promoted to the rank of general, and a same-sex wedding was held in the chapel at West Point.

4.  The first person running as openly gay was elected to the U.S. Senate.

5.  Now, as another measure of how rapidly things are changing, the Conservative Political Action Conference went from excluding the GOP's own gay caucus GoProud from its meetings, when they were being set up, to this week having a big change of heart.   Those opposed to inclusiveness found themselves speaking to nearly empty rooms, while a panel on increasing tolerance -- and specifically mentioning gay marriage -- had a packed audience.

6.  Senator Rob Portman (Repuclican-OH) announced his support for gay marriage, saying that his son is gayand he wants him to have the same rights as his other two children.
If SCOTUS doesn't get this message from the conservative CPAC -- yes, the one that didn't invite Chris Christie to speak but had Sarah Palin and Rand Paul instead -- then they aren't paying attention.

And remember -- it was Justice Antonin Scalia himself who predicted, in his dissent to the decision that overturned all the sodomy laws in the U.S., that this would lead to same-sex marriage acceptance.


Back from hiatus

I took a few days off from ShrinkRap to attend, and present a paper at a national Psychoanalysis and Clinical Social Work conference in Durham, NC.