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Tax-Payer Receipts September 30, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Uncategorized.
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I doubt that I will agree with much of the Third Way’s deficit-reduction ideas, but this proposal (pdf) for a taxpayer receipt sent to each tax payer sounds like a great idea:

Corn syrup, milk chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, coconut, almond, soy lecithin … any consumer can read these ingredients and their nutritional value on every package of a 75-cent Almond Joy. What is provided to a taxpayer with a $5,400 tax bill? Nothing. For many Americans, the amount they pay in taxes is larger than any purchase they make during the year, but studies show they know almost nothing about where that money goes to.

This contributes to ridiculous beliefs, like the view that 20% of government spending goes to foreign aid, for example. An electorate unschooled in basic budget facts is a major obstacle to controlling the nation’s deficit, not to mention addressing a host of economic and social problems. We suggest that everyone who files a tax return receive a “taxpayer receipt.” This receipt would tell them to the penny what their taxes paid for based on the amount they paid in federal income taxes and FICA.

And here’s an example of what it would look like:


[This is not a complete list of government expenditures, hence the reference to “selected items”. ]

Perhaps with this receipt it would gradually dawn on the American public that cutting back on all the Republican bugbears—foreign aid, EPA, Amtrak, and public housing—would not lower anyone’s taxes much.

And perhaps they may come to the realization that most of what the government pays for they really like.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com


The Death Penalty and Albert G. Brown September 29, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Criminal Justice, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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The state of Virginia executed Teresa Lewis last week, and here in CA Albert Greenwood Brown was scheduled to die this week, but the execution has been put on hold because of a shortage of sodium thiopental, the drug used for the lethal injection.  Is there a national, or even a local debate about the death penalty about to happen? Not according to the Los Angeles Times a few days ago:

Brown, 56, is poised to be the first inmate killed in the state’s new death chamber in San Quentin, built after U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ordered a stay on executions in California in 2006 because its three-drug lethal-injection method appeared to violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Brown’s attorneys say Fogel’s decision last week not to block their client’s execution was rushed, and that even though Fogel is giving Brown the option of a single-drug method that is considered more humane, the judge still hasn’t examined the new death chamber or properly studied new training procedures for the state’s executioners.

They may have a point, but that’s not why we’re disappointed. We had hoped that Fogel’s stay would start a dialogue in California about the death penalty, which is objectionable for a host of reasons, and not just because the three-drug death cocktail may not ease the pain of the condemned. We’d hoped Californians would be shaken by the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 following a conviction based on shoddy forensics evidence, or of the 17 death-row inmates in other states who were exonerated by DNA testing. We’d hoped they would notice that capital punishment has no deterrent effect on violent crime, or that the cost of carrying it out is helping to bankrupt the state, or that most developed nations have abandoned it because of its essential inhumanity.


Here you have the essential abolitionist arguments. For the sake of Fairness in Blogging (FIB), let me mention the key arguments in favor of the death penalty (retentionism): No other punishment matches the severity of the crime of murder. No other punishment guarantees that the murderer will never be pardoned/will never escape. No other punishment guarantees specific deterrent (the criminal himself/herself won’t repeat their crime). The high cost is due to the long appeals, not the punishment itself. And the unfair executions of defendants based on shoddy evidence and/or discrimination are flawed, but such situations can be avoided in the future with sufficient reforms.

As reported by MAARS News,

John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County district attorney’s office, said prosecutors were pleased with Fogel’s ruling.

“This is a horrific case with horrific facts,” Hall said cited by the Los Angeles Times. “This man showed no remorse. He never claimed innocence…. It’s time for this family to finally see justice. It’s been delayed too long already.”

Brown was convicted of raping and murdering of Susan Jordon a student of Arlington High School in 1980 in Riverside. The 15-year-old was walking to school when Brown pulled her into an orange grove, raped her and strangled her with her shoelaces.

He even called the girl’s parents and the police and told them where to find her body.
Brown had been paroled four months earlier from a prison term imposed for the 1977 rape of a 14-year-old girl.

Here is a recap of the whole, heartbreaking story from AP .

And indeed it appears that we are about to have a debate about the death penalty, at least in CA: Here’s a comment from The Faster Times, by Maureen Nandini Mitra:

The evidence was compelling too. Several witnesses had been seen him approaching Susan. Among other things, police found semen-stained clothes, Susan’s missing schoolbooks and phone directory open to the page with her parents’ phone number in Brown’ possession. At the time of the murder, he was on parole. He’d been released four months earlier after serving four years in prison for the 1977 rape of a 14-year-old girl.

As I discovered the details of Brown’s crime, my rage boiled over. Despite my intellectual opposition to death penalty, part of me felt he deserves to die.

Then I took a second look at the figures. Brown’s lawyers have managed delay his sentencing for 30 years. Which means Susan’s family has been waiting for three decades for some kind of closure to their pain. They’ve had to relive their trauma over and over again through years of appeals and two reversals of the sentences by the California Supreme Court. And it’s still not over.

 Is there a “right” view and a “wrong” view? From an abolitionist POV, of course, the answer is easy. But for those on the fence or in favor of capital punishment (70 percent of us!), the cases of Lewis and Brown provide a challenging juxtaposition: One, a borderline mentally disabled woman rushed through the court system (relatively speaking) and put to death, even when there was some doubt about her initiative in the murder-for-hire, and clear evidence of her remorse. The other, a confessed rapist/killer without a shred of remorse whose lawyers have kept him alive on Death Row for 30 years, and who have just won him another reprieve. Is it acceptable to have capital punishment in a nation where justice is meted out with such vast differences in different states? Are individual cases where our sense of justice feels let down enough to undermine an entire judicial tradition? Of course we should have a political debate about capital punishment, allowing both rational and emotional arguments to be heard, because without emotional engagement we are unaffected by the suffering of the victim and her or his relatives, as well as by the concept of mercy, and without reason we are incapable of acting justly, as well as comprehending social consequences. It need not be a partisan discussion, because even if the L.A. Times seems to assume that the reasons the Democrats in CA don’t want to discuss the issue is because they’re cowards, the fact remains that there are retentionists among Democrats as well as Republicans, and abolitionists among Republicans, too. So we need to hear each others’ best arguments. Are we willing to listen?

Tired Rhetoric September 28, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Uncategorized.
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I just listened to part of the debate between Brown and Whitman. And Whitman keeps making the same tired argument that businesses are leaving California because of taxes and too much regulation. But Bureau of Labor Statistics don’t support  that claim. In fact, we have lost fewer jobs than neighboring states. Last year, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon had over 6.5% job loss compared to 4% in California. Of course any job lost is one too many but the job losses are caused by the recession, not taxes or regulations.

According to the  Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), there is very little movement of businesses across state lines and California is about 20th in the nation when it comes to the tax burden.  A recent report found that California loses fewer jobs across its borders than other states because large, metropolitan areas are far from the state border.

Schwarzenegger was fond of making the same false claim. E-meg needs to find some new talking points.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

American Sins Against Socrates September 27, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Uncategorized.
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David Schneider laments our lack of self-reflection:

I’ll give one thing to the demagogues – they sure know something about basic human psychology. For those of us waterboarded by the economy, we’re close to Depression desperation. It’s a commonplace that depression is “anger focused inward”; and the cheap-and-easy way out, if you’re too cash-strapped for the shrink or the meds, is to displace that anger outward to the nearest, easiest target.

O America, if there’s anything we suck at, it’s adequate self-reflection. Oh sure, we love looking at ourselves, we paragons of self-flattery on the flat screen; but thinking about ourselves (by which we mean, interrogating history) – well, that’s injurious to our self-esteem. After all, we tried it a couple times: Jimmy Carter, and what the right-wing called the “politics of resentment” in the “radical left-wing” academy of the ’80s and ’90s. Reagan’s “Morning in America,” and the Neoconservative revels after Communism’s collapse, sure showed those liberal pantywaists. The power of positive thinking. Huh.

I’ve thought a lot about the acolytes of that cipher, George W. Bush, as the last decade broke and darkened. And I thought of my father, who, as I was growing up, could do almost anything but admit he was wrong. I thought about hard-line Communists in the Politburo, as the Soviet Union dissolved: what happens when everything you’ve believed in is a lie?

When the economy collapses and your phallus is your finances, you’re getting kicked in the nuts. Pretty humiliating.

So you can actually feel really embarrassed, humiliated and ashamed – and pledge to reform, and actually reform – but that involves a lot of thinking, and gee, there’s so much to think about already. On the other hand, you can get angry. Throw that anger away from yourself, as far as you possibly can: to the Other: socialists, terrorists, illegal immigrants, and the mythical chimaera of all three, the President of the United States of America.

In Britain, August is “the silly season”; in America, we scapegoat. It’s a necessary action, according to the Old Testament – all the sins of the Israelites, placed upon a goat’s head, which is then thrown off a cliff or banished to the wilderness. It’s the prerequisite to Atonement, which Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck pantomimed before the giant of Lincoln, in the shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. Only then, after the scapegoat is cast out, and the ceremony of Atonement is complete, can you re-establish the Covenant, and be written into the Book of Life again, as the new Republican Pledge attempts.

Tragedy is the goat’s song.

I’m theorizing here, with no more or less credence than the Beck himself. (Heck,he made bank off his conspiracy theories; why can’t I?) I’m only trying to dig into the deep substrata of our national mythologies, attempting to discover any rationale for America’s persistent avoidance of self-knowledge: that we were taken for fools. Every day, we are confronted by our own financially fatal gullibility and the deceit of our neighbors. The litany is so omnipresent, so perpetual, that we are apt to plug our fingers in our ears and shout “LA LA LA!” In the last month alone, I’m appalled to read about Nevin Shapiro, who pled guilty to defrauding investors across America of $880 million; George L. Theodule, “man of God,” who stole at least $4 million (and as much as $23 million) from his Haitian-American church congregation; Marcia Sladish, a Giants Stadium ticket collector, who collected $15 million from a Reverend Sun-Myung Moon-afilliated church congregation and is now serving 70 months in prison; the trio of miscreants who, until recently, ran North Providence, R.I., blackmailing and cajoling bribes out of anyone who wanted to do a bit of honest business; and the entire city council of Bell, California, which ran their poverty-stricken town like malevolent lords over a provincial fiefdom.  

It’s pretty much the same story across the board, from John Farahi in southern California to Scott Rothstein in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale: be charismatic and charming, promise the world to your fellow believers, take their money, buy some hot cars and chic restaurants and maybe a mansion or three. Beat the Johnsons. Repeat as necessary until you’re in the dock, blubbering for leniency, very LiLo-like.

It’s sickening.

And it’s easy to get angry.
It’s easy to be misanthropic.
It’s tempting to look for easy answers.

But the fact is, many of the fraudsters who’ve downed our economy are being exposed due to the diligence of the Obama administration, and quite perversely, we don’t like it.

As far back as 2004, the FBI was complaining that mortgage fraud was a major threat to the American economy. The Bush administration had shifted the vast majority of the FBI’s manpower toward counterterrorism efforts (a fact often emphasized in The Wire), leaving the agency unable to respond to financial crimes. Each year, the FBI petitioned the Bush administration for more agents; each year, the requests were denied.

Under the Obama administration, the FBI radically stepped up investigations and prosecutions of financial fraud, according to last Wednesday’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. For a mere three-and-a-half months, the FBI’s been engaged in a sweep called Operation Stolen Dreams, arresting 525 people allegedly responsible for more than $3 billion in losses. And, if you read the report, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We, the people, are furious (according to the mainstream media); we decry “porkbarreling” and “sweetheart deals” in Congress; we are terrified that the economy will not “recover” to its “previous level.” The fact is, the economy was never at its “previous level.” Scuppered by our own self-aggrandizement (which we euphemize as “self-esteem”) we have defrauded ourselves to believe that we are worth much more than we are. Often, we’ve deluded ourselves and others. Some of us have done so to a degree that is criminal. And those that have done so are guilty, and ashamed, and in denial, and are angry at themselves, and may well take shelter under the right wing of the tea partiers, who repent for us all, and champion the unbounded freedom to hoodwink us to our national ruin.

After all, one must protect one’s own interests. That’s the American way.

The press claims the upcoming election is a referendum on Obama’s economic plan. But Schneider is right that much of our current political debate is the politics of projection, avoidance and self-deception. The upcoming election is really a referendum on the American public and its capacity for self-reflection.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Animal Suffering September 26, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, religion, Uncategorized.
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From Jeff McMahan on the NY Times Opinionator Blog

Viewed from a distance, the natural world often presents a vista of sublime, majestic placidity. Yet beneath the foliage and hidden from the distant eye, a vast, unceasing slaughter rages. Wherever there is animal life, predators are stalking, chasing, capturing, killing, and devouring their prey. Agonized suffering and violent death are ubiquitous and continuous. […]

The continuous, incalculable suffering of animals is also an important though largely neglected element in the traditional theological “problem of evil” ─ the problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent god. The suffering of animals is particularly challenging because it is not amenable to the familiar palliative explanations of human suffering. Animals are assumed not to have free will and thus to be unable either to choose evil or deserve to suffer it. Neither are they assumed to have immortal souls; hence there can be no expectation that they will be compensated for their suffering in a celestial afterlife. Nor do they appear to be conspicuously elevated or ennobled by the final suffering they endure in a predator’s jaws. Theologians have had enough trouble explaining to their human flocks why a loving god permits them to suffer; but their labors will not be over even if they are finally able to justify the ways of God to man. For God must answer to animals as well.

Theists have never had an answer to the problem of human evil. I doubt they have an answer to animal suffering either.

McMahan speculates that humans might do better than “God.”

But ought we to go further?  Suppose that we could arrange the gradual extinction of carnivorous species, replacing them with new herbivorous ones.  Or suppose that we could intervene genetically, so that currently carnivorous species would gradually evolve into herbivorous ones, thereby fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.  If we could bring about the end of predation by one or the other of these means at little cost to ourselves, ought we to do it?

As McMahan points out, intentionally inducing the elimination of entire species is itself a moral wrong. (Almost as bad as just allowing them to go extinct in order to make sure oil men profit.)

But in the end McMahan’s proposal is silly. It is hard enough to get human beings to care about the suffering of other humans. That is apparently about all the morality we can handle, and our lack of moral capacity is threatening our own existence.  There may be some possible world in which animal suffering carries the same moral weight as human suffering. But it is not close to this world.

But God doesn’t have the same limitations. God’s moral capacity is not limited.

So why animal suffering?

The Enthusiasm Gap September 23, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Uncategorized.
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Much has been made in the political press about the enthusiasm gap that separates Republicans and Democrats. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans but Republicans are much more enthusiastic about voting this November than Democrats are, so Republicans are likely to pick up seats in the House and Senate.

There are lots of reasons for this enthusiasm gap. The party in power seldom does well in off-year elections in part because it is much easier to get enthusiastic about being an angry critic than it is to defend the hard slog of actually governing. But I think there is something to the view that part of the enthusiasm gap is explained by Obama’s failure to articulate progressive values.

Robert Reich provides a precise example of this failure:

Why is there an enthusiasm gap? Let me illustrate.

Today (Monday) at a “town hall” sponsored by CNBC in Washington, the President took questions about the economy. When a hedge-fund manager complained that Wall Street executives “feel like we’ve been whacked with a stick” by the administration, Obama said most of his critics think he’s been too soft on the Street.

He noted he still hasn’t been able to end the practice of taxing some hedge fund and private-equity earnings at the capital-gains rates rather than the higher income-tax rates. “The notion that somehow me saying maybe you should be taxed more like your secretary when you’re pulling home a billion dollars…a year I don’t think is me being extremist or anti-business.”

Good as far as he went. But that’s as far as he was willing to go. It was a golden opportunity for Obama to connect the dots — to make the case that

(1) super-rich financiers on Wall Street and top corporate executives have grown even richer than they were before the Great Recession, even though most Americans are getting poorer or losing their jobs and homes and savings, and more Americans are in poverty.

(2) Yet the lobbyists for the financiers and top corporate executives, and their Republican allies have blocked or tried to block every effort of the Administration to widen the circle of prosperity, including enacting a major jobs program, providing major relief for mortgage holders who are under water, helping working families afford college for their kids, making sure states and cities have enough money to pay our classroom teachers, and cutting taxes on average working people.

(3) They almost scuttled the effort to make sure health care would be affordable to average Americans.

(4) The super-rich say the nation can’t afford any of this because of budget deficits. Yet at the same time their platoons of lobbyists are fighting off efforts to treat their income as taxable earnings rather than capital gains. So last year the 400 richest families in America, with an average income of $300 million each, were taxed at an average rate of only 17 percent. That’s the same tax rate paid by a family earning $30,000.

(5) And they’re fighting off efforts to end the temporary Bush tax cuts. If they’re successful, the richest 1 percent of Americans will get a windfall of $36 billion next year. Millionaire families will avoid paying $31 billion in taxes. Over ten years, they’d avoid paying $700 billion.

(6) And they’re fighting off efforts to restore the estate tax, which only applies to the top 2 percent of Americans, and which has been in effect since Abraham Lincoln introduced it to help finance the Civil War. How do we afford national defense if the richest and most privileged Americans won’t pay their fair share?

(7) Wealth and power in this country are so distorted that the top 25 hedge-fund managers each earned an average of $1 billion last year. $1 billion would support 20,000 classroom teachers. Yet who contributes more to this country — a hedge-fund manager or a teacher?

But he didn’t.

Instead, he challenged tea-party activists to come up with specific spending cuts. “It’s not enough just to say, ‘Get control of spending.’ I think it’s important for you to say, you know, I’m willing to cut veterans’ benefits, or I’m willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits, or I’m willing to see taxes go up.”

Obama has done a fine job of getting progressive legislation enacted. But he has not played the role of educator-in-chief. The country has become more conservative on his watch and he bears some of the responsibility for that. But that is not a reason to refuse to vote in the November elections.

Democratic politicians need to acquire a spine, but so do some of their supporters.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

The Death Penalty and Teresa Lewis September 22, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Criminal Justice, Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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Let’s talk about the death penalty. A final appeal has just been denied by the Supreme Court, and a convicted criminal is headed for execution Thursday night. Such denials of appeals happen on a regular basis, but this one is a little different—and I’m not talking about the fact that the criminal, in this case, is a woman. If we want equality, well, there it is: If a man can get executed for being the mastermind of a murder-for-hire (and he can), so can a woman. No, it is the fact that this case goes against the recent tendency in the legal discussion to reserve the death penalty for the “worst of the worst,” if the death penalty is to be imposed at all.

If you are opposed to the death penalty, there is no particular reason to look more closely at this case, because all executions are, to you, morally wrong, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the person on Death Row, their age, their mental capacity, their remorse or lack of it, etc. Still, the case provides another opportunity to argue why capital punishment is wrong per se. If you’d like to share such arguments here as comments, feel free. But if you are in favor of the death penalty, this case deserves your attention, because Teresa Lewis doesn’t seem to fit the category of “the worst of the worst”—not like serial killers Ted Bundy (executed), or Robert Yates (awaiting execution), or the Green River Killer Gary Ridgway with his scores of murders (serving life without, because he made a plea deal). She hired a man (who happened to be her lover) to kill her husband and stepson. Before he killed himself in prison, he apparently stated in an interview that he had put pressure on her to go through with it, because he needed the money. Both he and a second hired shooter got life because of plea deals.  And it appears that Lewis’s mental capacity, while not reaching the criterion of being legally “diminished,” is still on the low side with an IQ of 72, making her sense of judgment more like that of a 13-year old.  She has no prior history of violence, and she apparently has shown genuine remorse during her years in prison.

I can’t claim to be familiar with the ins and outs of this case, because it just came to my attention, but after reading a number of news stories about Lewis, it seems to me that we’re definitely not talking about the “worst of the worst.” From a utilitarian point of view she would  present no danger to the general prison population, if  her sentence were commuted to life.  From a deontological point of view, justice must be done, but wouldn’t justice be served as well with her in prison, since that was the sentence given to the actual gunmen who may have influenced her decision? Her guilt is not in doubt, but her role as sole instigator may be.

There are many things I don’t know about this case; were D.A.s and judges up for reelection while it was going on? I have no idea. If they were, would it matter to their voters if they were tough on crime? I don’t know. I will assume that the trial had no elements that would make us question the motivations of the court, other than justice. But it seems to me that, contrary to that other infamous killer who took the life of his wife and their unborn baby/3rd trimester fetus, Scott Peterson, who didn’t have a history of violence, either, and who was sentenced to death, Lewis seems like a person who might be manipulated. Not a person of good intentions (or, as her lawyer says, “a good and decent human person”) at the time of the crimes, to be sure, but not a manipulative master mind, either. Still, within the legal parameters of capital punishment, we’re probably not talking about a miscarriage of justice if this woman is put to death—but might this not be an appropriate occasion to consider mercy?

According to author John Grisham, in a Washington Post article earlier this month,

Such inconsistencies mock the idea that ours is a system grounded in equality before the law.

In this case, as in so many capital cases, the imposition of a death sentence had little do with fairness. Like other death sentences, it depended more upon the assignment of judge and prosecutor, the location of the crime, the quality of the defense counsel, the speed with which a co-defendant struck a deal, the quality of each side’s experts and other such factors.

In Virginia, the law is hardly consistent. There have been other cases with similar facts — a wife and her lover scheme to kill her husband for his money or for life insurance proceeds. But there is no precedent for the wife being sentenced to death.

Your thoughts?

It’s Not Funny September 20, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Uncategorized.
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I must confess that I watch the goings-on in the political world with nothing but chagrin these days. When allegedly legitimate candidates for office advocate violence and threaten to repeal civil rights laws and the social safety net, I fear for this country and its people.

The so-called “tea party” movement with its radical pretensions and faux populist appeal has done well in some recent primaries. And “responsible” members of the GOP are doing nothing to discourage their ascendency while the media, seeking only controversy to sell ads, grovel at their feet.

As Robert Reich writes:

In Delaware, Palin-endorsed tea partier Christine O’Donnell is so far right she’s called “delusional” by Delaware’s GOP leader. In Kentucky, Palin-favored Rand Paul says the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shouldn’t apply to businesses. In Colorado, tea partier Ken Buck talks of getting rid of the 17th amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators. In Nevada, Palin-favored Sharon Angle has called for “2nd Amendment remedies” if Congress doesn’t change hands. […]

When Newt Gingrich, who has all but declared his candidacy for president in 2012, says President Obama exhibits “Kenyan anti-colonial” behavior, and that allowing an Islamic center near New York’s Ground Zero is tantamount to permitting Nazi’s near the Holocost Museum, he doesn’t sound like an ordinary American. He sounds like a hate-mongering crackpot. We’re not dealing with “extremism in defense of liberty,” as Barry Goldwater put it in 1964 (and even then, a large majority of Americans decided against him). We’re dealing with extremism that defies the principles undergirding our Constitution. […]

We’re in the midst of an ongoing economic emergency that requires clear thinking, intense work, and practical ideas. It also requires that we join together rather than be pushed apart. The loonies who are taking over the GOP pose a real and present danger.

If these people were not being accepted, by mainstream politicians and the media, as responsible public servants, we could all just have a laugh at the marginal nutjobs who are sometimes attracted to politics.

But they are way too close to power for comfort. It is no longer funny.

Democrats, even if discouraged, need to come out to vote in November.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Study Hard–But How? September 20, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Teaching.
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All you good people who started fall classes recently—you think you know how to study? Well, maybe your teachers and professors have been wrong all along. According to psychologists, studying in a quiet room without any distractions doesn’t give you particularly good memory retention; neither does studying the same material twice. It’s good for short-term memorization, but not for long term, and as we all know, you’re supposed to learn for life, not for school—non scholae, sed vitae. In a recent New York Times piece by Benedict Carey, “Forget What You Know about Good Study Habits,” we learn that some of the things we instructors have bent over backwards trying to incorporate into our classroom style is, apparently, nothing but BS.

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

So what really works? In the classroom setting, the student should be exposed to several kinds of stimuli:

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.

In addition, the article points out that what really works, after the student has studied the material once, is being faced with a hard test afterwards!

Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people’s stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget.

Pretty interesting article. The ultimate learning environment is one of a multitude of sensory impressions? Such as, a classroom with a window to the outside, a textbook/laptop in front of you, a bit of PowerPoint stuff once in a while, some discussion, some lecturing? Sounds like a normal, modern classroom setting to me, so perhaps we’re doing something right. But I can’t really warm up to these sweeping ideas that Everything You Think You Know is Wrong. Learning has been going on for a long time in the history of humanity, and folk wisdom tells us that there really is no shortcut. Learning takes time and effort. Maybe not the kind of effort we used to think was necessary, but a generation of school kids has been guinea pigs for new learning methods that apparently aren’t so useful after all, either. Some people just have the knack for learning anything and everything, and the rest learn how to learn when exposed to the right material, the right teacher, and the right motivation. And as we all know, teachers have vastly different teaching styles. And if you, the motivated philosophy student, can hook up with the instructor with the teaching style that appeals  to you, and challenges you the most, then  good for you. But regardless of whether you’ve found the perfect stand-up philosopher or not, you’d better just expect the learning situation to consist of mainly reading and analyzing texts, and being tested on them, regardless of whether the learning process is accompanied by nice views, soft music, jokes in a foreign tongue, or whatever else the psychologists can think of…

When Hypocrisy Becomes Farce September 19, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, religion, Uncategorized.
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Following shortly on the heels of the announcement by a Church-appointed commission that uncovered pervasive child abuse in nearly every Catholic diocese in Belgium, this weekend, the Pope visited the UK and spewed more of his nonsense about “atheist extremism” which he claims threatens “traditional values”.

I didn’t know pederasty was a traditional value. But I guess its a good thing those Belgium priests were not atheists. Who knows what they would have done.

But then rank hypocrisy becomes farce: he blames the holocaust on atheism:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

Ophelia Benson was livid:

That vicious authoritarian theocratic homophobic misogynist hierarchical thug presumes to blame atheists for Nazism when his own fucking church was all but an ally of the Nazis and really was an ally of Mussolini and Franco.

Indeed.  Of course, Hitler was no atheist. He professed belief in Catholicism and was solidly supported by the church during his reign. The Pope’s historical revisionism goes beyond hypocrisy—it is an outright lie.

If you were making a movie about a rabid lunatic who became Pope could you find anyone better than Herr Ratzinger to play the part?

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com