Why progressives need to support Obama now more than ever

August 22, 2012

I came across an interesting article in The Atlantic on my Facebook feed called “Liberals Need to Start Holding Obama Responsible for his Policies” by Conor Friedersdorf. And I found the article to make a lot of sense. In fact, I’ve been making similar arguments for the past few years. And had this article been published last year or the year before, I’d have no disagreement with the author. However, not this year. This year is different.

It’s true that Barack Obama has been too often a disappointment for progressives, be it his compromises on healthcare that took the single-payer plan off the table, or his record deportations, or his failure to prosecute those bankers whose fraud caused the economic crisis, or his continuing of the War in Afghanistan, or his continued support of countless Bush policies like the “War on Drugs” and abstinence-only sex ed classes, or the drone strikes against innocent civilians. Take your pick.

But this is an election year. And that changes things.

I’m all for criticizing Obama for his failure to fight for the progressive policies he promised. But I don’t think this is the time to START holding Obama responsible for his bad policy decisions. During the first three years in a term seems the best time to hold Obama responsible for bad calls. But come election year, that’s when I think the focus should be on criticizing the far worse of the two evils. Strategically, it’s best for progressives to stand behind Obama for the next few months. Then after the election, we can give him hell again.

Now let me be clear here. This is not a free pass, but a stay of execution until November. What good will come out of increasing Romney’s chances of victory?

Unfortunately, it’s either Obama or Romney at this point. In an ideal world, there’d be more options on the table, but in an election year particularly, we’re prisoners of the system. Too late to introduce a true progressive third party alternative who could plausibly win the presidency and too late to redirect the Democratic Party’s platform. If Obama were to suddenly turn super-progressive tomorrow, his campaign would suffer from accusations of being a flip-flopper. No, now’s the worst time to attack Obama’s policies if the goal is a progressive presidential cycle for the next four years.

The day after Obama wins reelection, I say go to town on his bad decisions. And maybe then, if we push him and the press hard enough, we’ll have a chance at getting a few important policy decisions go our way or, though very unlikely, even get Obama to make changes to help fix the system like he promised. But neither of those options exists with Mitt Romney in the White House. He’s even more bought by the corporations than Obama and even more motivated to push conservative social and fiscal policies.

All evidence suggests a Romney presidency would continue to marginalize women, LGTB Americans, and every other minority group. They’ll likely continue to deregulate the market and make it easier for the super-rich to profit off the poor and middle class. They’ll likely promote a science policy that undermines climate change research and the teaching of evolution in schools. Whatever you might think of Obama, by all indication, a Romney presidency will almost certainly be disastrous.

The time to fight Obama in this term is over. Progressives who care more about the cause than shaming the president need to put the pitch forks down for now and support Obama now more than ever. Then after he wins, feel free to let him have it.

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Responding to Christian moderates at Think Christian about the gays and morality [re-edited]

May 13, 2012

[Writer’s note:  As of May 17, 2012, this piece has been re-edited. The main reason is that due to the great length of my comment on Think Christian, they politely asked me to condense it down to 250 words or less and graciously agreed to link to this longer-form article on their Facebook page to create a larger discussion. So I’ve modified the second half of this piece featuring the comment and moved some of the material as to distinguish my comment from my additional points that didn’t make it into that 250-word cut. But also, rereading this piece, I wasn’t proud of how I phrased a few things, so I also modified the earlier section. My main points, however, have not been changed. With that, I’d like to welcome any readers who have been referred here by Think Christian as well as thank Think Christian for facilitating this sharing of ideas]

My love of the podcast Filmspotting recently led me to discover that the new co-host on the podcast also contributes to a website called Think Christian, a site run by Christian moderates. Think Christian is a Christianity I can kinda get behind. They are quite different from the ultra-Right-Wing fundamentalists and evangelicals I typically encounter from those who wear their Christianity on their sleeves. In my opinion (though I haven’t followed the site for long and they might disagree), Think Christian seems to wisely ignore much of the actual content of the Bible and form their own progressive moral viewpoints.  Though, while I rather like these guys, my one main complaint is I feel they somewhat misguidedly try to attribute their progressive humanist values to Christianity.

Politically, I think we share many of the same values. Again, they’re infinitely better than evangelicals and they’re living in the right century. But while I find this mutation of Christianity useful to progressive causes in the short-term, I think it becomes problematic to reinforce a system that needs to first re-brand any particular civil or human right as a “Christian value” before defending it, and doing so only on the grounds that its considered god’s will to do so rather than as a good on its own, independent of the opinions of any alleged higher power.

A perfect recent example of this was Barack Obama’s announcement that he personally supports same-sex marriage. Obama didn’t defend marriage equality as a civil rights issue. Instead, he dressed it up in Christian language, declaring it merely his personal feelings on the matter based on his interpretation of Christianity that places fairness and The Golden Rule above the actual text of the Bible. Despite the Bible denouncing gay sex repeatedly, Obama actually defended gay marriage on Christian grounds. And when the Bible was used to defend slavery, many abolitionists pulled the same trick of ignoring the Bible’s unmistakably pro-slavery content and presenting it as being somehow Christian to oppose slavery, defying what their god allegedly actually said in favor of their own human sense of righteousness.  Martin Luther King invoked alleged Christian values when making his case for civil rights as well.

In my opinion, re-branding  secular humanist values as somehow Christian when they categorically oppose what is actually written in scripture is just not the right or honest way to go about positive social change in the world. Far better is just accepting that the Bible and Christianity are largely archaic mythologies held originally by mostly barbarians from a barbaric age with a few decent ideas sprinkled in, while fighting to end social wrongs simply on the grounds that they are social wrongs and cause unnecessary human suffering. Isn’t that enough of a reason? Why must we add “my god also said it’s wrong” to the list before it becomes a worthwhile cause?

Now since I constantly get asked by religious individuals to explain how one can even objectively and rationally ground morality without the presence of a divine third-party, I just completed a separate, lengthy article ambitiously titled, “The basis of all morality“. I very briefly touch on some of it below, but I get much more in depth on my central thesis in that article.

But anyway, here’s the very interesting piece from Think Christian on the issue of marriage equality and the following is my response:

Ideologues do exploit science, twisting it to rationalize their biases when science can only inform our decisions. But ethics belongs to philosophy, not religion. Religion too is easily manipulated when religions stress tradition, obedience, blind faith, and submission, while reducing morality to the proclamations of a dictator.

You’re right that whether homosexuality is a natural part of the human condition or simply preference is wholly irrelevant to any moral discussion. Homosexuality naturally exists across countless species. Being a particularly social species, our factors for pair bonding are more nuanced, though research finds human same-sex pair bonding largely biological. But it’s irrelevant to ethics because, as you said, one can’t form an ought from an is. If homosexuality (or heterosexuality) were 100% natural, that wouldn’t make it right or wrong and if it were 100% preference, it still wouldn’t.

There’s insufficient evidence of societal or individual harm from homosexuality while we observe benefits such as providing parent-less children an opportunity grow up in a loving bi-parent environment, creating less overall human suffering.

Morality boils down to what’s good or bad for us, society. It’s the trial and error process of figuring out and weighing what’s most advantageous to society with the least suffering to or infringement on the individual. Traffic laws make a perfect microcosm of all morality in that we just do our best as a cooperative society to determine how to keep society and the individuals within thriving and as free of suffering as possible.

Now what didn’t make it into my 250-word comment but I wanted to bring up anyway:

I further agree with you about choices never being fully free. But this “we’re all children of god” and “we’re in the image of god” stuff seems to me to be all just shallow, empty platitudes. I don’t give a fig if a creature were the exact opposite of the image of the Christian god. If rats worshiped a god, it’d look remarkably just like them too. This just seems like rhetorical gibberish to take credit away from philosophy for secular progressive values. While some notable moral philosophers have been religious, it wasn’t their religion that led to their contribution to ethics. And as long as religion roots its moral positions in the uncritical worship of creatures that may or may not even exist, it will never make any significant contribution to ethics. And as for gaining “perfection through Christ,” he can keep it. What an dreadful existence perfection would be!

But the part of your piece where I couldn’t disagree more on is when the authors seem to suggest humans are only valuable because we were “made in God’s image.” They appear to me to be suggesting humans have no value on our own as unique individuals who think and feel and create and discover? Are they suggesting our human value is that we’re just lucky to be monuments to the vanity of a supremely vain and egotistical deity? Humans are valuable in and of themselves regardless of whether or not there is a god or a creator or whatever. We don’t need a deity to give us value. Shakespeare, Tennyson–greater poets than those who wrote the Bible have demonstrated man’s self-worth far more eloquently than I ever could.

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Yes, he did!

May 1, 2011

Barack Obama is having the best week ever. Though I still wish he hadn’t bothered to take the Birther movement seriously enough to release his long form birth certificate, it does now seem to serve as the first event in a sequence of hugely positive PR moves this week. That was followed by his outstanding performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, mocking Donald Trump and the whole pseudo-controversy:

And now tonight came the coup de gras, the announcement that U.S. forces have killed Osama bin Laden. This week alone may have secured Obama his reelection and won over the support of many of his critics.

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Chris Mooney disucsses conspiracy theories that won’t die

April 28, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Chris Mooney disucsses conspiracy theories that…, posted with vodpod

Obama Birther logic

April 26, 2011

News From Around The Blogosphere 6.29.10

June 29, 2010

I am so behind on news stories that I’m going to ignore my usual rule of keeping this News From Around The Blogosphere chunk to only a few stories in order to play catch-up over the next few days.

1. Australia elects atheist Prime Minister…who sadly turns out to be anti-gay – Early reports of Julia Gillard’s appointment were met with cheers from the atheist community but now some of our hopes may have been dashed as news comes out that she opposes marriage equality:

“We believe the marriage act is appropriate in its current form, that is recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman, but we have as a government taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples,” Ms Gillard said.

Seriously, how does that sentence come out of the mouth of an atheist?

2. Copenhagen atheists create declaration of principles – The principle focus on religion’s role in public life.

3. Chuck Norris vs. the Secular Student Alliance SSA – Chuck’s pissed that with all the crises happening in the world, Obama found time to honor the SSA but has neglected the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and feels its’ persecution or something. What is it with these Christians who think just being their wishes aren’t met, that makes it persecution? No Bill Donohue, the Empire State Building is not honoring Mother Teresa, so get over it. Anyway, for some reason Chuck feels the BSA should have been invited to a conference on “Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses.” Why I don’t know. I guess Chuck still harboring a grudge against atheists ever since Bruce Lee kicked his ass. Personally, I’m still waiting for Chuck to respond to the email I wrote him three years ago.

4. Robot fish is accepted by shoal as one of their own – Wow, it’s kind of like Avatar except instead of the dude from the last Terminator film transferring his consciousness into a biological shell, it’s a frakkin’ robot.

University of Leeds scientists have created the first convincing robotic fish that shoals will accept as one of their own. The innovation opens up new possibilities for studying fish behaviour and group dynamics, which provides useful information to support freshwater and marine environmental management, to predict fish migration routes and assess the likely impact of human intervention on fish populations.

Robots–is there any news story they can’t make awesome?

5. UK trying to ban homeopathy

Recently representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) condemned homeopathy as “witchcraft.”Now the BMA is going one step further – calling for a ban on homeopathy in the UK. They do not want homeopathy to be illegal, but they want a ban on any National Health Service (NHS) support for homeopathy. The NHS currently spends about 20 million pounds a year on homeopathic remedies (about 0.01% of the NHS budget) and maintains four homeopathic hospitals. This is a small amount overall – but anything spent on homeopathy is a waste. More importantly, as the BMA notes, homeopathy has “‘no place in the modern health service.’

6. Nick Fury, Black Widow, and S.H.I.E.L.D. to investigate Phil Plait? – Apparently someone over at Marvel Comics is a fan of the Bad Astronomy blog because Phil Plaits’ name is in Black Widow’s phonebook.

7. Teenager turns into Spiderman – In other Marvel Comics-related news:

A Cambridge schoolboy has converted two budget vacuum cleaners into a Spiderman gadget which helps him scale walls.

Hibiki Kono, 13, a big fan of the superhero, made the incredible climbing machine using the suction from two Tesco Value vacuum cleaners.

The schoolboy then amazed his friends by using the giant suckerpads to climb the school wall during morning assembly.

“I used to dress up as Spiderman when I was younger and I love all the films so it’s great to be able to climb walls like him,” said Hibiki.

You sir, are awesome.

8. Stem Cells cure blindness

STEM cells have restored sight to 82 people with eyes blinded by chemical or heat burns.

Once again, as Carl Sagan once said, science delivers the goods.


News From Around The Blogosphere 6.18.10

June 18, 2010

1. How Obama can save taxpayer money while improving medical research – This past week, President Obama called on all federal agencies to voluntarily propose budget cuts of 5%. Dr. Steven Salzberg knows how he can the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget, and in the process, actually improve medical research:

Here’s my proposal: save over $240 million per year in the NIH budget by cutting all funding for the two centers that fund alternative medicine research–the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Both of them exist primarily to promote pseudoscience. For the current year, NCCAM’s budget is $128.8 million, an amount that has rapidly grown from $2 million in 1992, despite the fact that not a single “alternative” therapy supported by NCCAM has proven beneficial to health. OCCAM’s budget was $121 million in 2008 (the latest I could find) and presumably higher in 2010. That’s over $240M, not counting money these programs got from the stimulus package (and yes, they did get some stimulus funding).

Now that would be change I can believe in!

Me and George Hrab's glasses . . . George Hrab also seen

2. George Hrab unleashes more trebotchery on the world – If you don’t know who George Hrab is, you are missing out. He’s an incredibly talented (and freakishly tall)  atheist and skeptical musician who produces a comedic, variety show-style podcast every week called the Geologic Podcast, where he often discusses atheist/skeptical themes. And now he’s just released his latest album, “Trebuchet.”

The first track on the album is titled “God Is Not Great,” a nod to Christopher Hitchens’ bestselling book. There’s also a track titled “Death From The Skies,” named for the eponymous book by Phil Plait. This song even features vocals by Plait, reciting excerpts from his book. George Hrab’s music spans many genres but I’d most compare it to that of one of his music idols, Frank Zappa. If you like Zappa, you’ll probably like Hrab’s music. And if you don’t like Zappa, well you’ll still probably like Hrab’s music.

And now, if you want to check out his music, you can listen to the entire new Trebuchet album FOR FREE on the latest episode of his podcast. Check it out.

3. Death by soccer or death by religion – 61-year-old David Makoeya was beaten to death by his own family after a fight broke out over his wanting to watch the World Cup instead of religious programming. But it’s not just the Christians. Islam also getting into the act:

4. Blasphemy with sprinkles on top – Lady Gaga isn’t the only one stirring outrage by wearing a habit this week. An Italian ice-cream maker outraged (aren’t they always) Catholics because of a commercial featuring a pregnant nun enjoying a pot of Antonio Fedirici ice-cream and includes the slogan: “Ice-cream is our religion.” Yeah, apparently that constitutes as “mocking the birth of Jesus”…somehow.

5. Vatican’s “values-based” solution to AIDS crisis – I’ll give you a hint. It involves no condoms and a continent full of dead Africans. I think they should call it their “final solution.”