Archives for category: Obama

[Update: This post was intended for skepolitical.com, but the formatting and pictures only seem to work here.]

[Update 2: Below]

Too often, voters seem to get caught up in trying to make sure “their guy” wins, and meanwhile they lose sight of their underlying objective: making the world a better place, and maximizing whatever utility function they see fit. Normally, this would be an implicit objective — not many people have literally constructed a utility function for their political objectives, but everyone has things they think are important and those define their “implicit utility function.” The truth is that casting a vote for the less offensive of the two “viable” candidates, or advocating for others to cast their votes that way, is not necessarily the best strategy for your long-term well-being. I actually think there are many good reasons not to vote for the major parties (one being that their policy differences are overblown), but today I just want to highlight one perpective that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere.

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[First published on skepolitical.com on 7/16/12]

Last month President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum regarding the enforcement of immigration laws. Immigration is one of those policies, like prison reform or even foreign policy, that has very little direct effect on me until I reflect on the fact that, to the extent that I consider myself to be a citizen of a sovereign nation, I am responsible for this nation’s policies. A major part of my ethical awakening in the past decade is to take this civic responsibility more seriously even though, as a relatively privileged white male, it is so much easier to ignore it on a day to day basis. Indeed, the fact that it took me a whole month to bother writing this article is a result of my natural inclination remain apathetic. Along with fighting for skepticism in education and civic discourse, fighting against apathy is one of the two driving forces in my current worldview. I consider fighting apathy to be an ethical stance, while the skeptical activism is more of a strategic stance. Of course, undergirding these stances is a fundamental belief in democracy and the American model in the first place. After all, if the nation in which I reside is not democratic and sovereign, then my ethical and strategic stances need to be quite different. I’ve heard some interesting arguments along these lines on Occupy Radio (iTunes link), including discussions with the anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan. I’m not ready to jump ship and join the anarchists, but the principled alternative is certainly not apathy. One thing the anarchists and statists (such as myself) should agree on is that solidarity is essential to social justice.

Though belated, I thought this post would be worthwhile because, as far as I can tell, I have a unique perspective on Obama’s executive order, stemming from my own particular brand of naïveté.

After listening to and reading several days worth of media coverage of the new immigration policy last month, I was truly shocked when I sat down and actually read the document. The facts that were implied and left unchallenged in the articles I had read and NPR discussions I listened to were simply not borne out in the text of the order.

From the media coverage, I got the impression that Obama had granted a temporary reprieve from deportation to a certain class of undocumented immigrants. All sides seemed in agreement on that point, and the various arguments and discussions hinged on this agreement. My impetus for reading the original document was that I wanted to write a post about how Obama’s decision related to my recent post about overcriminalization and, specifically, the problematic practice of prosecutorial discretion. I also wanted to point out that Obama makes a mockery of our system of government by arguing that he could not wait any longer for congress to act, for it should also be congress’s prerogative not to act or even to fail to act. An executive branch that respects the actions of congress only when it sees fit is not behaving as part of a balanced system but rather claiming the dominant position in a totalitarian system. These arguments seemed compelling to me, so I figured I should read the primary document to hone my argument for my post.

Imagine my surprise when I found the document to be very sensitive to the executive branch’s limitations regarding the right to assure illegal immigrants any leeway whatsoever. The memo was very careful to emphasize that even those immigrants who met the stated criteria were to be considered on a “case-by-case” basis. That is to say, even assuming they fit the criteria and the order stays in force (Obama is not exactly the most steadfastly principled politician, and Romney may be even less so), they could still be deported. “[The Department of Homeland Security] cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases… This memorandum confers no substantial right… Only Congress, acting through its legislative authority, can confer these rights.” Since prosecutorial discretion was already necessarily being conferred, this language actually constitutes nothing more than a mere suggestion of how to apply that discretion. Indeed, the memo acknowledges that, “our ongoing review of pending removal cases is already offering administrative closure to many of them.” If you were a qualifying undocumented immigrant, would you voluntarily register your personal information with a government offering that level of “assurance” in a document that can be rescinded as suddenly as it was executed? Would you want your name and personal information on file in the event of a Romney presidency? Compared to what the media was reporting, if we interpret the document literally, registering for this program would seem to be a high-risk endeavor.

So, why was there such a discrepancy between what I was led to believe would be in the executive order and the actual text of that document? I suspect that the disconnect has less to do with negligence or misinterpretation by the media and more to do with the fact that the words in the memo are not to be taken literally. That is to say, I suspect that all the caveats and nods to Constitutional constraints are instinctively understood among media insiders and other executive-branch observers as mere boilerplate to be ignored in order to correctly interpret the memo’s meaning and implications. As a relatively new observer, perhaps I was naive to have taken the memo at face value. In the future, I, too, will know that a mere suggestion by the President of policy within the executive branch will be taken by the President’s underlings to be inviolable law, and the media will report it as such. I find this to be frightening and disturbing, but it seems like the best explanation. (136)

[First published on skepolitical.com on 6/1/12]

As Marc described yesterday, my post last week about my embarrassment at having bought into Obama attracted the attention of a reporter doing a story on disillusionment among Obama’s 2008 supporters. She’s not sure when the story will be published, but it could be as soon as next week. When it is published, you can rest assured that we will announce its publication and link to it from this blog, whether or not we are featured in the article. You probably noticed that we have not revealed the reporter’s name. At the end of my interview, I asked her how it would affect her if I blogged or tweeted about the interview, and she respectfully requested that I refer to her only as “a reporter.”

Needless to say, this is an exciting development for me. For quite a while, I’ve been trying to find a way to find a voice, assert my values, and make a difference. Posting in this blog seemed like a nice outlet until I found a way to make a more substantial difference, but I did not really expect it to attract much attention. This interview is a welcome surprise. Moreover, it’s encouraging to know that the mainstream media is now developing this narrative of a growing coalition of angry and disillusioned former Obama voters. It’s the sort of narrative that has the potential to dispel the self-fulfilling notion that Third Party candidates are hopeless. If this allows Third Parties to get enough of the vote, perhaps they will stop being viewed only as spoilers and more as genuine ideological alternatives to the two corporate-chosen parties that are traditionally put before the electorate for our rubber-stamping.

I participated in this interview despite my belief that the domination of the media by corporate entities is a major problem. I think the profit motive tends to direct their reporting choices, and, inevitably, their corporate identity tends to make them more sympathetic to corporate interests. In recent years I’ve shifted my news-consumption to sources that are independent and non-profit. Still, the quality of corporate media sources vary widely, and there is lots of great work being done by many of the reporters in the corporate media. I think this is likely to be one of those instances. In any case, I was treated with respect and my opinions are now more likely to gain a wider audience. I think that easily makes it worth any tiny exacerbation I may have introduced to the problem of the media’s domination by corporate entities. Good reporting is still good reporting, and I’m very pleased this story is being covered, whatever the medium.

Although I didn’t say everything I had hoped during the interview, I was given ample time (half an hour), and we touched on several subjects I didn’t anticipate. She asked a little about me and my history, she asked why I was upset with Obama, and she asked what I plan to do going forward. I think my anger and frustration came across appropriately. She also asked a bit about the skeptic movement and Dan Carlin. I am writing up my account of the interview in more detail, but I haven’t decided yet if I should post that before or after her story comes out.

The reporter also asked me to recommend other people to interview. If you’ve been deeply disillusioned by Obama and you’d like me to send your name along to her, contact me by commenting, emailing, or tweeting. (190)

[First published on skepolitical.com on 5/26/12]

Go ahead and read this short op-ed in the LA Times about how young people, disillusioned with Obama, are looking for ways to be political outside the normal avenues of politics. The second paragraph really rings true for me:

Obama seems to have transformed the cohort of 18- to 29-year-olds, a whopping 66% of whom preferred him over John McCain, from passionate voters who thought Obama really did offer change they could believe in, into people feeling, in the words of veteran political analyst Charlie Cook, “disappointment and disillusionment.”

I recently became too aged to fall into that demographic, but I guess I’m still young enough at heart to sympathize. For me, I had been looking forward to the end of Bush’s tenure for years. I believed in democracy, and so I felt somewhat responsible when my government arrogantly condescended to other countries, engaged in torture and indefinite detention, and violated various civil liberties of its domestic population. This is not to mention aggressive war in Iraq and the concomitant atrocities. Probably worst of all was the insane levels of secrecy that shielded government criminality from accountability. To some extent, I became ashamed to be a part of it. Then Barack Obama showed up promising to change all this. Sure, he had the uncomfortably vague slogan of “Hope and Change,” onto which anyone could project their particular hopes. However, he really did make specific assurances to ameliorate all the fundamental issues of Bush’s term that I was so concerned with. On top of that, a worldly and dark-skinned American President couldn’t hurt our image abroad.

I was naive. The pandering began on Day One with the Obama’s inclusion of the anti-Gay Rick Warren in his inauguration. Obama has been as bad or worse on all the most significant concerns I had with Bush, except that he is slightly better on war and torture. For a while, our image abroad did improve, but it has plummeted again as a result of Obama’s aggression. It’s embarrassing to be proven naive. For me, this embarrassment has been a driving force behind learning more about how politics and the world works, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m also sure I’m not the only one who decided to look for alternative ways to empower myself and assert my values. The LA Times op-ed is a good, concise, documentation of how this has played out nationwide. For me, this has been manifested in trying to educate myself as fully as possible about the workings of American government and power structures, discussing and influencing my friends, listening and contributing to independent media, and writing in this blog. I think the primary solutions are to work for a more skeptical culture while still fighting today’s battles through movements like Occupy Wall Street.

On Tuesday, May 22, Neal Conan interviewed Neal Gabler, the author of that op-ed, on Talk of the Nation. (It’s twelve minutes.) The first caller had been even more naive than I was, having expected not just a return to the rule of law but the advancement of truly progressive policies. For me, this seems secondary, and I view the inclusion of divisive progressive ideology in the Occupy movement as a potential weakness. The second caller described efforts that he has seen people making, such as engaging in local activism where their efforts were more likely to realize tangible gains. The third caller seemed to still be under the illusion that working within government was the answer, blaming Obama’s failures on a recalcitrant congress. He is working on congressional campaigns in Texas. It makes me feel that I should be doing something more than just blogging and tweeting.

By the way, I was going to start off this post with the following statement. ”Barack Obama’s Hope and Change campaign in 2008 inspired young Americans as never before.” This is a statement that seems right, but I don’t really know if it’s true. Fortunately, before I began the post, I caught myself. I know that people have a tendency to assume that they live in extraordinary times (this bias does not seem to be documented), and so my inclination to make a such a claim set off my skeptic alarm bells.

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[First posted on skepolitical.com on 5/11/12)

A truly significant cultural event occurred this week in America: our President declared his belief that homosexual couples should be allowed to marry. As Glenn Greenwald points out in an Op-Ed in the Guardian, this was unthinkable twenty or thirty years ago, when homosexuality was still punishable by death in some states. That the mainstream American position on gay rights has evolved so significantly is a genuine inspiration to those of us who sometimes despair at the seemingly impossible task of pushing America towards better ethical leadership and policy.

At the center of this historic event is our president, Barack Obama, who has benefitted from a maelstrom of positive press from the mainstream media. Barack Obama, who several years ago told us that his position on the issue was “evolving,” thus introducing a new level of insulting intellectual dishonesty. Few observers on either the left or the right could have failed to see what Obama was saying: he believed in gay marriage, but would wait to announce it until it was politically expedient. Now that he has capitalized on that moment, the press is falling right into the trap of letting him ride this wave of liberal exuberance, as if his cynical “evolution” had something to do with the truly inspiring evolution of the views of the American people.

That Obama gets to ride this wave of goodwill is made all the more frustrating due to the fact that he could have made this announcement months ago without suffering politically. In his characteristically sober style, Nate Silver points out that it is unusual for a party’s leader to be as far from the mainstream of his own party as Obama had been on this issue, concluding: “In many ways it is surprising that Mr. Obama did not adopt his new position sooner.” Even if you are the type to forgive political expedience, Obama would have done just fine if he had made this announcement several months or even a full year earlier.

By waiting an extra few months or a year to finally confess his transparent dissemblance on this issue, Obama may have gained a little extra political milage. The mainstream view today is slightly more in favor of gay marriage now than it was last year, so perhaps the celebratory atmosphere is a bit stronger on the left than it would have been last year and the backlash from the right may be weaker. Also, being an election year, Obama now has a better chance of gaining from the goodwill in the ballot box. However, those extra months were still damaging. They represent a few extra months that young gay people felt more isolated. They represent a few extra months that states like North Carolina could vote on anti-gay legislation without their voters being quite as conscious of the fact that their bigoted viewpoint is outdated. It represents, then, a few extra months that our glorious president was willing to sacrifice the well-being of Americans in favor of his own political fortunes.

The story here should be that the successful efforts of the gay rights movement to encourage millions Americans to shed a chauvinistic belief that had quite recently still been deeply entrenched has finally been embraced by the President, which represents a true watershed moment in our nation’s history. I’m fine with the headline “Obama Declares Support for Gay Marriage,” but the first lines should have read:

Supporters of the gay rights movement are celebrating a watershed moment in their history. American support for gay marriage is now so strong that President Obama, who previously indicated that he would wait until it was politically expedient, has dropped his charade of having an “evolving” position, stating in an interview that he does indeed support gay marriage.

Any secondary stories focusing on Obama (rather than the gay rights victory itself) should either be the one Nate Silver tells in his column (why didn’t Obama do this sooner?) or a reflection on Obama’s history of expedience on this and other issues. Instead, the secondary story seems to be that Obama has done a great thing. At least he grabbed the opportunity to embrace history when it was placed in his lap.