Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why politicians lie to us

The short answer is they lie to us because we want them to.

When my oldest son was younger he believed in the tooth fairy. And why wouldn't he? My wife and I told him she existed, and he slept soundly enough we could exchange a dollar bill for his most recently liberated baby-tooth without waking him and spoiling a rite of passage.

Basically, we lied so he could enjoy a more magical world than a child could otherwise understand in the real world. Which is a fancy way to say we indulged (abused?) his child-like wonder of the world and his trust in us while mom and dad went on with business in the real world and took care of his every need--and many of his wants.

In a moment we'll get to why the new democrat-controlled congress funded the Iraqi war without pull-out dates, but first a little more groundwork.

With my apologies to those taken aback with my sacrilege, let's take a short test to see if you believe in Santa Clause:
  • Gas prices are manipulated by big oil companies, yes or no?
  • The President is responsible for the economy, yes or no?
  • The rich become rich by exploiting the working class, yes or no?
  • "Living wage" laws lift people out of poverty, yes or no?
  • Congress will make sure Social Security will provide for your retirement, yes or no?
If you answered yes to any of these questions there's a good chance you may still believe in Santa Claus--or if not Santa, at least you believe in fairy tales.

Don't be upset. Your child-like innocence is endearing to your mother--and your representatives in congress. In fact, most politicians admire those qualities in voters because it makes their constituents easier to manipulate. Or in plain English, easier to lie to.

Lies work best when one party is more gullible than the other. In the issue at hand, Democratic candidates won a congressional majority by telling voters what they wanted to hear: that they wouldn't provide any more funds for the war without a time line for withdrawing the troops. Put your vote under the pillow and the fairies will replace it with an exit strategy tied to funding.

How were voters so easily duped? Because they'd rather believe withdrawing the troops this fall has no military consequences than that insurgents and terrorists would use it to their own positive ends. They'd rather believe the troops in Iraq will see a withdrawal plan as concern for their safety than a lack of confidence in their mission. They'd rather believe the non-uniformed combatants that blend into the population and think nothing of targeting civilians as they do our military are petty criminals better tried by Judge Judy than a military court.

As much as it pains me to write it, the new democrats in congress knew tying funding to pull-out dates was a bad national strategy but they also knew promising it to impatient voters was their best ticket to Washington. Even after giving empty Easter baskets to, Pelosi and gang are still promising they've hidden eggs in the living room--or that they soon will.

Voters are also anxious about gas prices so congress passed a bill promising to investigate gouging when they know they'll find none--but they can say they did something. Reminds me of how parents shoo monsters out from under the bed. It works for children for the same reason it does voters--because both are gullible. Voters are gullible because they're either ignorant or prefer to live in a make-believe world than the real world.

So voters need to ask themselves if they want to be grownups, if they want to be treated as grownups, and which candidates will talk to them like grownups. It's easier to spot politicians pandering to childish thinking after we become adult about the issues facing our nation's borders, oil dependency, education, health care, income taxes, and all the issues facing our state and local governments.

Adults don't trade votes, or teeth, for favors from politicians we know they can't deliver.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Council has no business but the city's business

Tuesday night, May 29, Ferndale's city council discussed then approved a resolution impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. I hope to find a link to the resolution's introduction and the resolution itself--both read by Councilman Galloway.

The resolution is filled with specious arguments and unsubstantiated allegations. But mostly it is a declaration of Dixie Chick Syndrome. Unconvinced our purpose in Iraq is noble, signers claim to be ashamed of our president and their citizenship--as if America had never come to another country's defense at risk to our own, fed another country's starving, or rebuilt another country's devastated infrastructure after either natural or man-made disasters. The signers blame President Bush for their extreme sense of shame at being American rather than their sense of guilt for arrogantly believing Americans are uniquely deserving of liberty but Iraqis are not.

Mayor Porter reiterated multiple times (before voting in favor of the resolution) that it had nothing to do with the Iraq war but instead on alleged high crimes and misdemeanors. That's like saying Osama Bin Laden is wanted not for killing thousands of people on American soil and terrorism, but for inciting airplane passengers to unbuckle their seat belts while the light was on or smoking in the restroom.

There's many things wrong with the resolution and I haven't time now to get into them--especially without access to the resolution's text. But even without the document itself and knowing only that the resolution would be voted on last night, I delivered this short speech to council:

What is objectionable about this item isn't how each of you may cast your vote, but instead that you would consider voting at all.

Regardless how you vote this resolution is not an act of substance, it is an act of symbolism. In as high regard as you may hold yourselves as councilpersons the city council is unqualified to pass this resolution. You were elected and have been given power by the people of Ferndale to address the business of the people of Ferndale. Resolutions to impeach any elected federal, state, or even county officer is not yours. It belongs to us--the citizens. Your decision tonight has no affect. You have no standing. It is empty. It has no weight. It is hollow. Ferndale citizens deserve substance from their council, not symbolism.

Yours will not be an act of bravery, but of cowardice. With neither standing or affect, you have no responsibility for this action. No accountability. Without either responsibility or accountability you've no risk. Actions taken without risk are not the qualities of leaders. They are the attributes of followers. And who might you be following? The Detroit City Council who passed a similar resolution early this month? I think this council can find better role models than those whose dereliction of office is second in priority only to their self-enrichment at taxpayer expense. As elected representatives of this city you owe Ferndale citizens leadership, and ought not hide behind or follow bad examples.

Finally, considering this resolution will not be a measure of your character but one of your self indulgence. Without meaning, affect, or accountability this resolution serves only to stroke your sense of moral superiority over those you pretend to pass judgment on. There's a word that describes the act of pleasing yourself that shouldn't be used on family television, but nonetheless describes the sense self gratification entertaining this resolution may arouse. Council serves at the citizens' pleasure, not its own.

This council was elected to represent Ferndale citizens in Ferndale matters. We've elected senators and congressmen to represent us in federal matters. Pretending to wear their mantel mocks them, it mocks the office of city councilperson, and it mocks the citizens that thoughtfully elected each.

I encourage all of you to fulfill your responsibilities as Ferndale councilpersons, demonstrate your sense of propriety, and reject consideration of this resolution.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bus driver walk-out confirms suburban fears of public transportation

While Detroit's city council took the time to pass a resolution in favor of impeaching Bush and Cheney they couldn't find the time to debate and resolve DDOT's request for officers on buses to stem assaults and robberies on city buses.

Actually, council's refusal to permit Wayne County Sheriff deputies and DDOT to work out a policing agreement isn't what scared suburbanites away from using buses. Where before a fear of buses was thought by outsiders as irrational or even racially motivated, DDOT drivers confirmed those fears weren't inventions of the imagination when the request for sheriff protection first made headlines.

Going on strike proved how important drivers think the issue is. What kind of signal did that send workers commuting from the 'burbs to downtown?
How expensive must gas become before people are willing to risk their persons taking the bus to-and-from work? Shopping? Will it matter whether it's a bus, trolley, or any other form of mass public transportation if passenger assaults are a frequent enough to merit a driver walk-out?

Southeast Michigan needs public transportation. But Detroit city council's neglecting the safety of DDOT's drivers and passengers will make progress towards that goal even slower than it has been. Reinforcing suburban paranoia of Detroit's crime spreading outside city limits probably isn't what the city council had in mind, but then the suburbs are never in council's mind unless its raising water rates or financing the expansion of Cobo Hall.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Religious leaders blame President for winter

I really don't want to spend that much time on global warming, but I just read a story that made me wonder, "What next?" Reuters is reporting that religious leaders are urging the president and congress to do something about global warming.

The article starts out:

In an open letter to be published on Tuesday, more than 20 religious groups urged U.S. leaders to limit greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy sources.

"Global warming is real, it is human-induced and we have the responsibility to act," says the letter, which will run in Roll Call and the Politico, two Capitol Hill newspapers.

If you believe global warming is man-made, I'd like you to suspend that belief for a short moment and consider:

  • What if the sun is the cause of warming here on Earth just as it is on other planets in our solar system?
  • What if the rise in CO2 is caused by warmer oceans and not man?

If it turns out the sun is responsible then isn't the request by religious leaders for the president and congress to do something about global warming about as rational as asking them to do something about winter? After all, winter truncates the growing season to only a few good months in the middle of the year. Meteorologists' predictions of winter's impending toll on crop yields are almost certain to follow the early warnings they say are certain to come in the fall.

I apologize for my sarcasm, but there must be better science and health issues for religious leaders to petition the government about. There are enough people calling for hand waving and fist pounding that pastors and rabbis are unlikely to make a difference. And as things are today, I don't see President Bush saying, "Well, if Imams think we should do something about global warming we'd better hop to it. Remember what happened to that Salmon Rushdie fellow? He was forced into hiding and I've still got 19 months on my White House lease."

Today's lessons from global warming

Several weeks ago my oldest son came home from school upset at something that happened earlier that day. He's 12 and in the sixth grade. The subject of global warming came up in his Language Arts class and a substitute teacher, after learning my son isn't convinced global warming is man-made in part due to his and my discussions on the subject, told him in front of the class, "Well, apparently your father is ignorant."

My son wasn't offended for my sake (that would be wrong), but he rightly inferred from the substitute's comment that she was implying he was ignorant.

So here's the first thing we can learn from global warming--that being in the majority excuses people from exercising self control over what they say to others in the minority. Perhaps not a lesson to be taught in Language Arts but certainly a lesson worth talking about in Social Studies.

Social Studies

For too many children, the lessons of the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and slavery before that are too distant for them to have first-hand knowledge of. What they do have first-hand knowledge of today, because we're in the middle of the debate is: What happens to minority opinions when politicians, Hollywood, and educators control the majority opinion?

The nice thing about global warming is students and open-minded teachers can discuss how the current state of affairs is similar to those of America's not-so-proud past, and no one's race, nationality, religion, skin color, or sexual preferences need to be offended. As a bonus the discussion avoids arguing the merits of anthropogenic global warming, requiring equal time, or relying on censored and politically correct and white-washed history books to lead the discussion for them.

Those last issues aren't critical to social studies, but they can be for Language Arts.

Language Arts

One of the issues alarming some is the apparent inability for college students to detect bias in what they read. Despite the availability of logic classes in college and some high schools, young adults can't always tell when they're being manipulated by media. In cases where it is impossible or impractical to give two sides of an argument equal time (ignoring a third or even fourth) it is important for students to detect bias in what they read, hear, and watch. Being able to identify the difference between weak and strong arguments, or logical and illogical ones, is important when time or material doesn't permit a more thorough investigation.


Some things in life are easy to understand, easy to remember, but easy to dismiss when it doesn't suit our emotions. Lost in the wailing over rising gas prices is everything we learned about supply and demand. Nearly everyone knows what supply and demand is, nearly everyone remembers it, but it doesn't make us feel better about paying $3.49/gallon for regular unleaded.

The same principal can be applied to man-made global warming and the difference between theory and fact (or in physics, theories and laws). Except for a few recent uprisings related to evolution vs. creationism, the fact remains that the first is a theory and the second is a belief. Until science can re-create evolution or predict what man's next evolutionary improvement is going to be, evolution must remain a theory. It matters little how many scientists believe it. Consensus does not make fact.

Let's visit some consensus theories of the past and see how well they held up:
  • The sun revolves around the Earth
  • Heavier objects fall more quickly than lighter objects
  • The world is flat
  • Germans are inferior Romans
  • Europeans are inferior to Muslims
  • Africans are inferior to Europeans
  • Women are inferior to men (actually, that's still a tenet in some cultures)
  • There are eight... no, nine... no, eight planets in our solar system
And as recently as the 1972 a consensus of scientists believed the Earth was sliding into another ice age.

In the movie Men in Black, Agent K tells a young recruit that just learned extraterrestrial life exists:
"A person is smart. People are dumb. Everything they've ever "known" has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."
Now, when discussing man-made global warming and whether or not students must believe one way or another, teachers can reinforce the difference between theories and facts, and that theories don't require choosing sides. Teachers and school boards can reinforce mankind's responsibility for global warming is a theory, that increasing CO2 increases temperatures is a theory, circumstantial evidence does not equate to fact, consensus doesn't transform theory into fact, and guarding theories from criticism is bad science and bad policy.

And for that matter, bad law.

So without actually debating man-made global warming a lot can be learned just from how it's promoted. Its propaganda has lessons just as applicable to social studies and language arts as to science. And those lessons are just as worthwhile for students to learn as they are for adults to be reminded of.

Patronizing Black Americans

Which is more patronizing; Hillary Clinton's fake twang when speaking to black audiences or conservative's insisting blacks should be outraged at her obvious pandering?

I think both are equally patronizing.

Blacks are too often (as even I am even doing here) treated as though no black person exists as an independent, free thinker. 140+ years after their emancipation they are still slaves to black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and the democratic party for which they are all expected to vote come election time.

The recent Imus scandal involving Rutger's women's basketball team is another example. The team didn't have to respond to Imus' comments. They could have chosen to treat Imus as irrelevant (and irreverent) as he is, but under immense public pressure they chose to give Imus power over their own self respect, and forfeited control of their own self esteem to the media, of which Imus is still a member of.

Would Rutgers' officials and the team have decided otherwise if the media and black leaders didn't put them in the spotlight and they were allowed to celebrate as originally planned? To paraphrase an old saying, if Sharpton shouted in the woods and nobody listened to him would Imus be less insulting?

I don't think black Americans need to be told how to react, or how to think. Most of them have been reacting and thinking on their own for decades. Nor do I think they need to be spoken down to. Hillary's, the press', and democrats condescension and paternalism toward blacks tells me more about Hillary, the press, and democratic policies than it does their black audiences or wards.

Black Americans are not foreigners. Politicians don't have to speak more slowly, use smaller words, or feign dialects or accents to communicate with them.

For everyone congratulating Hillary for "relating to her audience," as Sharpton put it, how do they expect she'd address an assembly of rappers? How should anybody speak to rappers? Should candidates all fake a Southern Drawl when campaigning in Kentucky? Isn't that catering to a stereotype? Isn't that profiling? If it's not allowed in airports or on I-75 why would it be appropriate at a Baptist convention?

Ultimately, I'm confused about who's patronizing whom. If blacks aren't offended at Hillary's mocking can anyone be offended for them without also mocking blacks? Is everyone really that anxious to get on the I've-been-offended train that their willing to use affronts to others as their own boarding pass?

If the price to buy that ticket is to forfeit control of my self respect to others than I've no shame not affording it. Besides, I don't think that train is going anywhere I want to go.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Selfish Sympathies

Mostly, people tend to sympathize with themselves. If you doubt that, read the Letters to the Editor in Monday's Detroit News.

In an earlier editorial, the Detroit News editors suggested congress should pass a $1/gallon federal gas tax.

Except for a few letters, it's apparent most letter-writers (if the sample is representative) believe higher gas taxes are a bad idea. But given a chance to vote, most of these same people have no problem raising cigarette, beer, and wine taxes to penalize others for their indulgences--or for that matter increase taxes on "the rich."

So in a nutshell, people opposing a $1/gallon gas tax increase are saying it's OK to tax other people to change their behaviors but their own behaviors don't need changing. Increased taxes, in their opinion, are helpful to curb other people's appetites but not their own. Naturally, their own appetites are necessities or artifacts of exercising their personal liberties. But as the editorial points out, progress doesn't come without sacrifice, and if we want progress on public transportation, progress halting sprawl, and progress revitalizing downtown Detroit then some sacrifice will be necessary.

It is said that people move away from pain more quickly than they do to comfort. This is why many people won't leave jobs they complain about constantly even when better jobs exist--the current job hasn't really become intolerable--even if they say it has. In the case of our nation's insatiable thirst for oil, apparently it's everyone else's responsibility to change their lifestyles than it is for themselves to bear the price of their own.

Higher gas taxes will certainly change Michigan, for the better I think, but not without some transitional discomfort.

When gas costs $4, $5, or $6/gallon, people may not be willing to sit in clogged traffic and begin demanding subways, elevated rail, or other public transportation that can be financed with new gas taxes.
Buses fall somewhere between personal and mass transit, but are neither personal or mass. Mass transit is progress for Detroit and Michigan.

Cheap gas accelerates urban sprawl. It makes 20, 30, or even 40-mile or more commutes an inconsequential expense. Imagine how real estate costs might change if Detroit and its inner-ring cities like Oak Park, Ferndale, Royal Oak and others suddenly become more desirable properties than Clarkston and Addison because of their close proximity to mass transit, urban infrastructure, office and retail space, and $4-or-higher per gallon gas prices.

Lastly, increased gas prices might spur revitalizations in Pontiac and Detroit. Due to the city's ability to provide high-density housing and plentiful office space, companies may realize the greatest benefit they can provide their employees and their families is to relocate to a city where people can conveniently live near their workplaces, entertainment venues, restaurants, and other attractions.

True, taking responsibility for our own share of America's dependence on foreign oil (or man-made global warming if you believe that) will cost each of us something. And it's also true that it's unfair for people already living close to work or with alternative means to commute to be in favor of higher gas taxes. But that hasn't stopped us from raising cigarette, capital gains, or graduated income taxes on other non-majority groups, has it?

Cross posted at