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What’s the Ethical Responsibility of Academics to Society?

The journal Science has published a valuable summary of a scandal in the American Psychological Association that threatens to undo the organization’s reputation.  While  the presidential administration of George W. Bush pursued a policy of torturing people it had detained without conviction, a trial, or even charges, rank-and-file members of the APA began voicing concern at indications that psychologists had been hired to help make torture techniques more torturous.  In public, leadership of the APA responded by creating a committee to inquire into any such practices and ensure that psychologists did not act to condone or support torture.  In private, that committee was stacked with members dependent on government grants and contracts who helped ensure that the government could continue to rely on psychologists to support the practice of American torture.

This is a scandal for psychologists, who are as a profession supposed to help people, but who instead helped themselves to government largesse and in return acted to hurt people.  It is tempting to focus on the American Psychological Association and its failings as a particular academic organization, or perhaps a bit more broadly to focus on the academic discipline of psychology and to ask how it might be reformed.  But perhaps we should expand our focus.  The scandal of torture and psychology came to light once and again, after all, because principled groups of psychologists refused to let the issue drop and demanded that psychology be maintained as a discipline that strives to do no harm.  But how many other academic disciplines are there in which the issue of harm to people is not resolved, and indeed not even raised?  The academic fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and robotics (to name just a few) are sustained by huge government contracts and huge sums of outright grants.  The results of these grants create and sustain advances in the technology of killing people and destroying human infrastructure.  What is the ethical standard for a chemist?  Is it ethically proper for a roboticist to accept funds to develop autonomous killing machines?  While we rightly focus on the ethical crisis in psychology, these questions for other fields have not been raised above the volume of a whisper in a tornado of activity.  Such questions need a louder voice.

Republicans Want Feds To Give Local Governments More Power, Except…

When it comes to federal programs to educate children, protect people from pollution, provide medical care, and promote equality, Republicans object strongly, saying that state and local governments ought to have the freedom to deal with those matters as they choose. They say it’s a matter of principle, a core part of Republican Party philosophy to support local power…

…except when local governments want to do something that Republicans don’t like. When local and state governments started working to give equal marriage rights to heterosexual and homosexual couples, for example, Republicans started pushing for federal laws to make such local actions impossible.

This week, GOP hypocrisy on local government power showed its face again, but this time on the issue of immigration. The elected leaders of some local governments have chosen to fight crime and public health problems by placing a higher priority on those issues than on the punishment of violation of immigration regulations. So, for example, if people report crimes, or believe that they have a communicable disease, these city governments have laws that enable them to deal first with those problems, without having to first go through bureaucratic paperwork gathering information about people’s citizenship status.

The Republican Party opposes this kind of local anti-crime, pro-health law. So, it’s trying to force local governments to place another layer of bureaucracy between citizens and local services. This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3009, legislation introduced by Duncan Hunter that enforces unfunded mandates that force local governments to demand people’s citizenship status before they can respond to calls for assistance from local law enforcement and public health agencies. Unless local governments pass the kind of laws on this subject that Republicans in federal government approve of, H.R. 3009 will take away funding for programs totally unrelated to immigration.

Whether you agree with the aim of that particular policy or not, it’s clear that, in this instance, the Republican Party is happy to use the power of the federal government to tell local governments how to run their own communities. All but 5 Republican members of the House of representatives voted in favor of H.R. 3009.

If Republicans are willing to use the power of federal government federal government to tell local governments what to do when it comes to immigration policy, how come they’re not willing to use the power of federal government to improve education, protect us from pollution, provide us with needed medication, and enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of equality under the law?

Empty Shelves in American Groceries

 camouflage cake 
Empty shelves are emerging this week in American groceries. Where food used to be sold, now there is nothing, as far as I can see.

Congressional Republicans Vote Against Pro-Life Amendment, Help Corporate Coal Cover Up Its Filth Instead

The Republicans in the House of Representatives call H.R. 1734 the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act, but they’ve got an awfully funny idea of what improvement looks like. The legislation, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, weakens the regulation of toxic wastes like coal sludge that result from coal mining and processing. H.R. 1734 actually lowers standards coal companies have to follow. The legislation puts Appalachian communities at risk, and does it for the sake of corporate profits.

Before the bill received its final approval, some U.S. Representatives tried to restore protections for communities in coal country into the legislation. Frank Pallone introduced an amendment that would have restored transparency requirements destroyed by H.R. 1734. The transparency measures in the Pallone amendment would have provided the public the right to have basic information about the toxic coal wastes being stored in their back yards. Alma Adams and Gerald Connolly introduced amendments that would have required strict monitoring of the ground water around coal sludge dumps, to make sure that people’s drinking water remains safe.

Not one single Republican in the House of Representatives voted to support these amendments.

G.K. Butterfield introduced another amendment, one that would block H.R. 1734 from taking effect if it is determined that the legislation’s lax lower standards for protection of drinking water endangers the health of babies and pregnant women.

Protecting the health of pregnant women, and the unborn babies they carry in their bodies, is supposed to be a rock solid plank of the Republican Party’s platform. They call it being Pro-Life. They say they won’t tolerate anything that endangers America’s unborn babies…

…well, except for the financial interests of big coal companies.

Yesterday, not one Republican in the House of Representatives voted to protect the lives of infants and unborn babies from the toxic effects of coal sludge in their mother’s drinking water.

It looks like Republican politicians are Pro-Life only until corporate lobbyists come to visit their offices with cash in hand.

29 Members of Congress: Freedom for Paris, but Not for America

This month, the number of members of Congress supporting a constitutional amendment to ban the burning of American flags as an act of political protest rises to 29.  The following are sponsors or cosponsors of the bill, H.J. Res. 9:

Rep. Abraham, Ralph Lee [R-LA-5]
Rep. Amodei, Mark E. [R-NV-2]
Rep. Ashford, Brad [D-NE-2]
Rep. Babin, Brian [R-TX-36]
Rep. Bishop, Rob [R-UT-1]
Rep. Blackburn, Marsha [R-TN-7]
Rep. Boustany, Charles W., Jr. [R-LA-3]
Rep. Cramer, Kevin [R-ND-At Large]
Rep. DesJarlais, Scott [R-TN-4]
Rep. Fortenberry, Jeff [R-NE-1]
Rep. Huelskamp, Tim [R-KS-1]
Rep. Johnson, Bill [R-OH-6]
Rep. Jones, Walter B., Jr. [R-NC-3]
Rep. King, Steve [R-IA-4]
Rep. Kline, John [R-MN-2]
Rep. Latta, Robert E. [R-OH-5]
Rep. Lipinski, Daniel [D-IL-3]
Rep. LoBiondo, Frank A. [R-NJ-2]
Rep. Miller, Jeff [R-FL-1]
Rep. Olson, Pete [R-TX-22]
Rep. Palazzo, Steven M. [R-MS-4]
Rep. Roe, David P. [R-TN-1]
Rep. Simpson, Michael K. [R-ID-2]
Rep. Smith, Adrian [R-NE-3]
Rep. Smith, Jason [R-MO-8]
Rep. Tiberi, Patrick J. [R-OH-12]
Rep. Wilson, Joe [R-SC-2]
Rep. Womack, Steve [R-AR-3]
Rep. Young, David [R-IA-3]

Without exception, each of the above members of Congress took part in the unnanimous approval of H.Res. 37 on January 20, 2015.  H.Res. 37 is a bill that responds to a deadly attack on anti-Islamic cartoonists in Paris, noting the “fundamental principles essential to a democratic society, including the universal right to free expression and freedom of religion,” and declares that the House of Representatives “remains committed to the defense of free expression.”

Is freedom for France but not for America? Is casting offense acceptable in Paris but not in Washington, DC? If one of the above is your member of Congress, ask.

Seriously, John Kasich

Perhaps yesterday’s initial reaction by Irregular Times to the news that Ohio Governor John Kasich is running for the Republican presidential nomination was a bit dismissive. However, it’s a challenge to pin Kasich down for a serious examination, because the Kasich for President campaign so far seems to be little more than a series of platitudes strung together.

Explaining his qualifications for the Oval Office, Kasich writes of himself that, “John Kasich is a lot of things and through it all runs his honest, direct, authentic, tenacious approach to life that has allowed him, time and again, to do what they said couldn’t be done and, as his mom told him as a boy, “make things a little better because you were there.” Does that actually mean anything?

john kasich Though he’s been preparing for this campaign for years, so far, John Kasich offers little in the way of specific policies. He says he wants to lower taxes, but doesn’t say which taxes for which citizens he wants to lower, and doesn’t explain how he would have America pay for it. He says he wants national security, but cites old ideas from the Cold War, to fight enemies that no longer exist. He says he’s in favor of “boosting the economy”, but is anyone against that?

John Kasich has expressed some specific positions outside of his presidential campaign, but they don’t offer much more clarity.

Unlike most Republican presidential candidates, Kasich admits that climate change is real. His plan for dealing with climate change is less reassuring: Oppose all attempts to regulate the pollution that causes climate change. Kasich merely wants the federal government to ask polluters to stop spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, and if they don’t want to stop, well, golly.

On education, Kasich’s policy is to insist upon higher rates of achievement from students, and then cut the budgets of the schools that teach them.

On healthcare, Kasich simply wants to destroy what we have. He wants to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. And then what? Kasich hasn’t come up with any solid ideas.

Kasich’s one concrete policy idea isn’t reassuring: He wants to send American soldiers to go fight on the ground in Iraq and occupy the country for years, all over again, repeating George W. Bush’s greatest blunder.

John Kasich’s leadership style seems to be to mumble along, trying not to say very much, identifying problems while avoiding solutions, and then, when cornered, blurt out old ideas that have already failed. It’s no wonder that, in spite of having had his own TV show on Fox News, Kasich only has the support of 2 percent of the voters in his own political party.

John Kasich Launches Presidential Campaign

kasich for presidentJohn Kasich launched his presidential campaign today, but was immediately consumed by leaks from disgruntled insiders revealing that his initial budget has already been spent on an outreach effort designed to explain to the American people how to pronounce his last name. Kasich’s top adviser, John Bloomsbottom, resigned this afternoon amid allegations that he registered ItSoundsLikeKSick.com using funds directly from Sanofi, the French parent company of Kaopectate, a brand of anti-diarrheal medicine.

John Kasich’s campaign is also fighting off rumors that the candidate has been named the winner of a Politician Least Likely To Be Brought Down By The Ashley Madison Hacking Scandal contest. Kasich has struggled in the polls, where he is currently stuck somewhere between Ulysses S. Grant and the generic write-in option “My Son-In-Law”.

On the positive side, Kasich’s campaign begins with the catchy slogan, “I’ve been there at all levels, OK?”

Kasich also is the only candidate who can claim to have “led on national security for 18 years” – not 17 years, not 19 years, but 18 years. Do you remember those 18 years of Kasich-led national security? I know I sure do. Oh, those were the days, when America was secure… nationally… with Kasich doing… security stuff.

Big Gods Followed Development of Big Societies, Rather Than Building Them, Suggests Cross Cultural Study

A cross-cultural study of societies in Austronesia published in the journal Nature debunks the idea that belief in moralizing high gods is necessary for the formation of complex societies.

Of the societies surveyed, 22 were politically complex, but only 6 had belief in moralizing high gods. The study traced the ancestral relationships between the societies to reconstruct the cultural history, and concluded that belief in moralizing high gods followed, rather than preceded, the development of complex societies throughout the region.

In other words, first the people came together to construct complex societies in which everyone worked together to create something lasting and larger than themselves, and only afterwards, in some societies, did people develop religious beliefs about big gods that were supposedly responsible for it all.

The moral for our story, here in the United States, is that when theocratic politicians preach at us that we all have to believe in God, to prevent our own society from falling apart, they’re telling a just-so story. We live in a democracy. We set up our society ourselves, and we keep it up ourselves.

setting up the tent of society

Jeb Bush Says He Will Not Be An Establishment Candidate

Yesterday, Jeb Bush made an astonishing speech, in which he cast himself as an outsider who will act to curb the political establishment.

This is the same Jeb Bush who:

– Is the son of one President of the United States
– Is the brother of another President of the United States
– Was born a millionaire
– Has spent the last several years making millions of dollars more by sitting on the boards of directors of corporations like Swisher Hygiene and Rayonier that abuse their workers and run slipshod management to enrich a few at the expense the many
– Has spent most of this year touring the homes and playgrounds of America’s wealthiest families
Mocks Americans who depend on Social Security and Medicare
– Gets just three percent of his campaign funds from small donors
– Gathered 103 million dollars from shadowy corporate and financial elitist sources for his Right To Rise Super PAC

Is that what someone who will take on the establishment looks like?

In his speech yesterday, Bush said, “I’m offering a different agenda altogether. It will not be my intention to preside over the establishment, but in every way I know to disrupt that establishment and make it accountable to the people.”

The last time John Ellis Bush made the establishment accountable, he used his power as Governor of Florida to block people’s votes from being counted, so that the Supreme Court could appoint his brother President of the United States.

I’d rather not see Jeb Bush given another chance to make anything accountable to his elitist idea of “the people”, thanks.

jeb bush financial elite

George Pataki Puts Politics Above People By Linking Hillary Clinton and Iran To September 11 Terrorism

George Pataki, a Republican who has recently come out of retirement to run for his party’s 2016 presidential election, is running under the slogan People Over Politics. That sounds nice, but how does George Pataki’s campaign embody that ideal?

pataki mistake on iran and september 11Most recently, George Pataki published a statement on Twitter reading, “It’s clear by her support of the #IranDeal that @HillaryClinton has forgotten the lessons of September 11th.”

Exactly how is it clear by her support of diplomatic a deal that prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon that Hillary Clinton has forgotten the lessons of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

Precisely what diplomatic agreement to prevent a country from developing weapons of mass destruction led to the attacks of September 11?

Does George Pataki really think that the lesson of September 11, 2001 is that diplomatic agreements with Iran are a mistake?

It seems more likely that the lesson of September 11, 2001 that George Pataki learned is that when a Republican politician can’t come up with a reasonable justification for disagreeing with someone else’s foreign policy, saying something vague about “lessons of September 11th” is an effective alternative.

That’s not people over politics. It’s politics over people.

George Pataki is rejecting a solid diplomatic deal simply because it’s a piece of work created by a political opponent. That’s the kind of self-interested vision that leads the United States into failed foreign policies. It has no place in the White House.