Category Archives: Politics

On Email Forwards: An Open Letter

Dear Republican Email Forwarder,

I have plenty of my own criticisms of Obama, and to a certain extent I agree with the opinions expressed by many of your forwards, but I have grounds for being skeptical of any verifiable/falsifiable claim made, or assumed, by any email forward ever. Your forwards in particular however, are nearly always factually in error, completely unresearched, without basis, overly simplistic, and poorly written as a matter of style. Their logical inferences are almost entirely unwarranted and their rhetoric tends to be very alarmist, inflammatory, and polarizing. They are not edited, fact-checked, or peer-reviewed. Email is a very poor context for dialogue, and I can see little to no benefit in reading or forwarding your poorly punctuated cyber-graffiti. I not only advise you to cease and desist in forwarding this garbage to me, but I generally think this practice propagates belief in falsehoods, division, unwarranted panic, and many, many other undesirable things and so advise you to stop reading and forwarding this nonsense in general.

The particular email I received from you recently, which purports to be an opinion piece published in a newspaper from Czechoslovakia (which was spelled wrong) whose name returned zero results in Google (not to mention the fact that, as of 18 years ago, Czechoslovakia is no longer the name of a country), is intended to make the reader feel like opinions of Obama abroad are negative (to counter the message of the left). There are other pieces that advance this same message. There were several criticizing Obama’s treatment of Britain, including the DVD box set he gave to the prime minister and the iPod he gave to the Queen (were these deliberately insulting, honest blunders, or perfectly acceptable gifts?). There were pieces overreacting to his honest blunder in toasting the Queen during her song (you can really see the embarrassment in his face at realizing his mistake). There are also pieces about Obama being snubbed by Britons (eg. Wills and Kate). There are pieces about Israel too, including his alleged snubbing of the president and the remark he made about pre-60’s borders (I have my own opinions, but they’re irrelevant). I could easily go on. I have 185 email forwards about Obama in my inbox.

The reality is mixed as far as Obama’s popularity abroad is concerned. It’s complicated. More of the world approves of current US leadership than disapproves (which rating is significantly better as a matter of fact than it was during the Bush Administration). But even that’s almost not worth mentioning without lengthy commentary (is it a good thing to be popular around the globe? What percentage of the rating increase is due to longstanding enemies whose anti-American goals are being helped by the current administration? Or is it that current leadership has actually built bridges?). Simplistic messages are misleading, muddying, and tend to gloss over relevant distinctions and details.

And so when I receive emails that have factual errors, invalid inferences, and simplistic messages, I cringe. Now, why do I care so much?

The biggest reason why I react so strongly is because I almost always agree with the underlying motivations for the emails and I often agree with their opinions. And so because of this, it kills me to hear my own views expounded and advanced with poor reasoning, factual errors, and rhetoric that divides instead of persuades.

I find myself reacting this same way, only much more viscerally, when I see fellow Christians acting hypocritically, saying asinine things in the coffee shops like “just have faith”, making poor arguments that make it seem like Christianity is based on factual errors and poor reasoning instead of verifiable history, strong arguments, and experiences that rationally ground our faith and produce charitable behavior and transformed lives.

What intensifies my reaction to political email forwards and causes me to react so sharply, though not quite as sharply as I react to shallow or hypocritical Christian belief and behavior, is something personal. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. My wife, as you may know, is one of the smartest people in Kootenai County, and is a very conservative Christian. Yet, she is politically very liberal. Most of the arguments for conservative (or what I would call “Classical Liberal”) economics, social policy, and foreign policy that she hears are quite simply bad arguments. They are often highly spun stories about current events, invalid inferences, over-generalizations, and factually false. Though she knows better deep down, this gives her the impression that there aren’t any good arguments for my views, just like the uncharitable and ill-informed brothers and sisters in Christ give unbelievers the impression that Christianity is based on silly myths and that Christians are selfish hypocrites.

While I believe that Lindsey stands up well in her corner and holds intellectually respectable political views, I simple disagree with her on them at the end of the day. It doesn’t wear on our marriage because our marriage wasn’t founded on politics, it was founded on something deeper than that. But that doesn’t change the fact that insofar as the political sphere is concerned I would want to persuade her of my opinions. And these email forwards typically hurt my cause instead of helping it.

So I appreciate that you think of us when you forward emails. I know that you’re an intelligent, well-informed person and fully capable of interpreting these forwards with a grain of salt. I know that not everybody takes them seriously and that many of the pieces constitute something akin to water-cooler talk, etc., etc.. I get all that, yet even accounting for the admission that I tend to over-react to them, I still think the practice is a poor and counterproductive way to pass around information and opinion and that it does more harm than good to all parties involved.

There’s nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view I hold dear.

– Daniel C. Dennett

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Ok, you trolls.

I just saw one too many Facebook comments today about Obama and the economy. I can’t take it anymore. I just need to get a couple of things off my chest. If you get frustrated at any point while reading this and need to take a YouTube break, I recommend Taylor Mali’s channel. You won’t regret it.

Revenue as a percentage of GDP went down from 17.5% to 14.9% from 2008 to 2009, which marked a net loss of revenue of $230,439 million while expenditures rose. All of this was Bush’s fault, and it went from bad to worse as Obama took the helm. He increased spending by $301 billion (2011 outlays vis-a-vis 2009 outlays), resulting in an unprecedented deficit of $1.65 trillion in the 2011 annual budget (a “responsible” plan according Harry Reid). But don’t worry, the President has a solution to the problem.

The reality is that he never intended to base his economic decisions on economics in the first place. (For those rejecting as anecdotal the aforelinked video moderator’s examples of increased revenue as a result of decreased taxation, and vice versa, see the Laffer Curve research.)

I like the part when he says “you can’t take out a credit card from the bank of China in the name of our children and grandchildren… I believe in the principle that you pay as you go.”.1

He said his economic decisions would be based on “fairness”. Note that if it were simply a matter of helping the poor, he would be able to do more of that with the increase in revenue he admits he might get from lowering taxes. Rather it’s to punish the rich—because it’s not fair for some to make more than others. As if appropriating the fruit of the people’s labor, against their will, at gunpoint, and using it for things they oppose is fair?

Actually that’s not true. It’s not about punishing the rich, it is about punishing the successful and lacking in UV. If it were simply about punishing the rich, he wouldn’t have given them $572,774,106,739—about which the Wall Street Journal explains, “never before has government spent so much and intervened so directly in credit allocation to spur growth”, and about which the Senate Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the bailout concluded that although “hundreds of billions of dollars have been injected into the marketplace”, it has had “no demonstrable effects on lending”, and there is “no evidence that Treasury has used TARP funds to support the housing market by avoiding preventable foreclosures.”. Not only was it a bad idea to begin with, but it was so poorly executed that it has opened the floodgates to fraudulent activity, no less than 86 cases of which were officially investigated by the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (it needed its own dedicated Inspector General) as of December 2009.

To add insult to injury, bailout recipients who claim to be repaying their bailout money are just using government money from elsewhere to do so. Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

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Apollo 14 & Under-Extracted Espresso

I am in a Starbucks in Spokane, enjoying some downtime while my wife Lindsey takes the Praxis II for School Psychology at Gonzaga. I am enjoying what to me tastes like an under-extracted americano. I’ve begun following a blog called Futility Closet at the suggestion of my best man and business partner David. Today’s entry is a quotation from an Apollo 14 astronaut. When I read it I appreciated the sentiment, but wanted to address the astronaut thusly: Look, the relative size of a matter does not determine its importance, and zooming out physically on it may help one to gloss over details during a moment of reflection, but the details are where all the relevant considerations lie.

There most assuredly is a lot of pettiness in international politics, but it sure as heck ain’t because the globe looks small from a distance.

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Abridgedly on Stephen Colbert and the Progressive Democratic Agenda

Stephen Colbert is funny. And in this clip he points out some insightful inconsistencies in the rhetoric of “conservative” “Christian” pundits who say idiotic things.

But he’s wrong.

His mistaken presupposition is that government is the channel through which charity ought to be distributed. And you know my argument against that – it robs people of the joy and responsibility of giving voluntarily, and in doing so infringes on their property rights (more on this later). It also enlarges the government, which is made up of people and so is more prone to corruption with more power. And because of this it doesn’t even end up doing a good job distributing charity to begin with!

I would use all of Colbert’s arguments to persuade people to voluntarily give to privately run charitable organizations that have to compete with one another for donations, that are held to high standards of transparency (unlike the gov’t), and to be personally hospitable and compassionate. To adopt orphans and help the widows next door to them. To be strategic about helping overseas. To volunteer at or operate the soup kitchens and give to Compassion International and World Vision and Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse and the Sheep Fold.

Convincing people to be charitable just might get more done than mocking people for not wanting to force others to be charitable.

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