November 14

If I Were a Xenuvian Pigeon

Preface: Thom Hartmann sometimes jokes that pigeons are robotic spies from the planet Xenu, here to monitor all important happenings among we humans on earth.

Stardate: 123456789/whatever.whatever

Station: Planet Earth, United States of America, Washington, D.C.

Pigeon Voxni's summary for Xenuvian year 56,935,136:

As I became immersed in human culture, I initially became discouraged at the behavior of these earthlings. They are prone to superstition, often selfish and motivated by primitive emotions. They still rely on a primitive money-based economic system which results in great, unwarranted disparities among individuals. Their economic system is amoral and based on profit motives, without regard for consequences. Moreover, their unseemly economic system has infiltrated their political systems. Even when attempts to practice democracy are made, as here in the United States and many other nations, money tends to corrupt the system and influence the outcomes. For every step forward they take as a species, there seems to be a loud outcry from those who want to take a step back, and at times, the back-steppers succeed (as in the recent midterm elections here in the United States), but only temporarily.

These beings have other vices as well. Many of them are prone to chemical addictions which hinder their attempts to function productively in their society. Perhaps these addictions would not be so commonplace if their economic and political systems were not so corrupt. Some also exhibit sexual addictions, and destructive sexual behaviors which tear many family units apart. Although the more sociable and caring female gender is clearly the superior one among humans, the males with their more aggressive, self-serving tendencies, tend to wield the most power. Perhaps this is a result of human evolution in which males have evolved to be larger, stronger, and to have more of a protector/agressor role in their societies, while females, being oviparous and bearing live young which they feed with a liquid nutrient mixture called "milk," produced in special glands found only in females, have tended to be more homebound traditionally, and to take on a more nurturant role. However, true biological differences between male and female behavior are not that pronounced, and socialization is definitely a far stronger influence on human behavior than gender or biology. In any case, humanity clearly will be well-served if they let nurturant females, as well as the nurturant side of its males, play a predominant role in shaping their planet's future. Clearly, with them firmly in control of their planet, and with the ecological calamities that their wanton exploitative economic activities and breeding are on the verge of producing, a nurturant attitude is needed, as well as an ability to view all human activities, including those involving the economy, as part of an ecosystem.

My first impulse regarding my recommendation for further action regarding this species is to wait a million years or so, then check again for progress, if their species has managed to survive that long. However, even though it may be easy for advanced beings such as ourselves to initially have an aversion to these human creatures, when one begins to know and understand them, one tends to find compassion for them and they are found to be likeable, for the most part. Indeed, given their potential which tends to be thwarted by the growing pains that the species is going through, it is often difficult to obey our directive to avoid interference with this species' natural evolution. Few humans intend to do true harm to their fellow humans or their planet, but rather, many of them are naive -- not stupid, but naive -- in terms of seeing the causes and effects of their behaviors. Perhaps they need more practice at that, more scientific knowledge, and a broader perspective. As I study the recent history of this species, it becomes clear that they have made great progress over these past several thousand years. That gives me great hope that, sooner rather than later, this species and the civilization which it is building can be something worthy of its great potential, something to truly be proud of.

Hope is also afforded me by some of our supersecret agents, cleverly disguised as feline companions to strategically placed humans. One such agent is Higgins, who is in the care of radio talk show host Thom Hartmann disguised as a feisty male feline, now stationed in this same capital city of the United States of America, one of this planet's leading nations, at least in terms of political power. Listening to Thom and his wife, Louise on a daily basis has shown Higgins a truly caring, rational side of humanity. However, I am concerned about one such agent, Gorjilina, disguised as a gorgeous female feline. Somehow she wound up with an obscure blogger, "Natural Lefty" (who is also a community college Psychology professor) and his wife, and seems to have taken her role to the hilt, to the point that her mind has turned to feline putty in the hands of her human companions. Instead of carrying out her spying duties, she seems more interested in cuddling with humans and being groomed by them -- "beauty treatments," as they say. I am afraid that her full capacities as a Xenuvian may be unrecoverable, and we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that she will permanently retain a feline identity from this point forward. I guess that is not all bad, though; perhaps it's a sign that the nurturant side of human nature will win out over the exploitative side after all.

In summary, my recommendation is that we stick around. This species, humans, are rapidly changing and evolving in a progressive manner culturally. There is much of interest, much of note, and much cause for hope here. Signed, your humble observer of alien cultures, Voxni.

November 9

Barack, Please Listen to Your Base

I am sending the following email to Whitehouse.org.

Dear Barack Obama, I will try to make this letter relatively brief. I am a part of a large, progressive base who supported you in the 2008 election. In my case, I am a progressive blogger as well as a supporter. It has been 2 years now since your election, and I am still a supporter, but events over these past two years have been both alarming and disappointing. We have been disappointed with the people you have surrounded yourself with from the beginning - Rahm Emmanuel, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and so forth. We have also been disappointed with your top-down response to our financial crisis, although I suppose that was what was to be expected, considering who you were listening to. Helping out the banks wasn't what should have been the real goal. The real goal should have been to help financially strapped citizens. We were appalled when you won the Nobel Peace Prize, but promptly escalated the United States' military presense in Afghanistan. We stood solidly behind you on health care reform and financial regulation. We are happy that legislation was passed, but very disappointed in the intensely compromised legislation that was passed. I thought you had wanted a public option for health insurance, but found out that you had dealt away any chance of having a public option from the beginning.

I have to wonder, why is it that Democrats compromise with Republicans, but Republicans fail to reciprocate? There is a lack of reciprocity in our current system. The social contract is being broken. Democratic politicians, who represent the majority of people in this nation, give in to the demands of right wing terrorist-like Republicans, time and again! What the hell is going on here? I thought this nation was supposed to be a representative democracy, only to find that we have become a corporate plutocracy run by political right-wingers, regardless of who is in the White House. At least, as an interested observer, that is how it seems from here.

Barack, I know that you were elected against long odds, and inherited a horrible situation. I also know that you were a relatively progressive Senator, and believe that you have the heart of a progressive. Furthermore, I believe that you have the public interest at heart, and lastly, I know that you are a brilliant person of outstanding intellect. I have known from the beginning, that moving forward in any sort of progressive way would not be easy. However, I had hoped that at least you would appear to be listening to those among us who believe in "hope and change." That is why I am writing this letter; I am involved in the progressive community here in the United States, so I know that there are a great many of us. Although I can only speak for myself directly, I believe that the majority of Americans feel much the same as I do.

I live in Moreno Valley, California, and in our state, last week's election turned our pretty well from my perspective. However, nationally, it turned out very poorly. Perhaps California is way ahead of the rest of the nation politically, or perhaps our experience with the political temper tantrum that resulted in Arnold Schwarzeneggar's election as Governor, combined with the obvious wealth influence in Meg Whitman's and Carly Fiorina's campaigns. I believe that a combination of these factors influenced California. I also realize that the influx of corporate money due to the Citizen's United decision made things more difficult for Democrats in this election.

However, in my opinion, last week's political temper tantrum which resulted in the election of so many Republicans nationwide, was not a result of voters being convinced that Republican ideas or ideology is superior to that of Democrats. Rather, it was another political temper tantrum much as occured a few years ago in California, with the only point being to punish Democrats for their perceived failures. It is my belief that had your administration paid even modest attention to the wishes of your base, this election would have turned out much better, and our national attitude and economy would be improving at a faster rate. I know that you showed great courage during your campaign, but I have to wonder what happened to it since your election. I think you have tried to play nice with people who don't like you, and don't want to cooperate with you. Perhaps this has to do with the emphasis of progressives on cooperation, while conservatives emphasize individualism. We want to cooperate, while the other side wants to do whatever it can to get into power, and thus, sabotages their opponents rather than engaging in any form of cooperation.

I think this is a good time for you to contemplate this reality, and get tough on those who are frankly, your political enemies, although I am afraid that instead, you will feel the need to compromise even more with the Republicans. There has already been too much compromise! In my view, your compromising is a big part of the problem. I speak from personal knowledge of the way progressives, and to an extent, most Americans think. When asked about what they want, the large majority of Americans in polls support progressive change. However, when they see it not happening, many of them become frustrated to the point of not participating politically, not voting, or voting for the "other party" which they see as the only other viable option in a political system that makes it difficult for any other parties to compete, and which is badly in need of reform such as public financing, instant runoff voting or proportional representation by party voted for, as other nations implement. Many of my friends, or former friends, on Facebook and the Thom Hartmann Community, have turned against your administration, which is tragic, and has caused me to argue with them and lose their friendship. The same is true of many people I know or hear call in to political talk shows.

I know that midterm elections traditionally don't go well for the party in power, so last week's election is no exception in that regard. I expect the election in 2012 to go much better and anticipate you serving as President for another 4 years. However, this may not happen if you don't start representing your base better. Although many such as I will still support you, you need to win back the support of those who have been disillusioned with politics to the point of discontinuing their support of your administration. Also, although I realize that you already understand this as you mentioned it recently, you need to do a much better job of messaging. Most voters are relatively low information voters, and respond mostly to "sound bite" messages and relatively simple, compelling memes, something I know about as a Social Psychologist. I realize that the so-called mainstream media has gone largely corporate and thus tends to be more sympathetic to corporate interests and conservative messages, making the task of messaging more difficult. However, the world is no longer forced to rely on network news the way it used to. The internet, and local radio shows as well, such as Pacifica Radio here in California, have become hugely important messaging sources. In any case, if your administration makes consistent, daily efforts to make its accomplishments known, the information will be spread. Those who refuse to report it, such as Fox news, will likely only be making themselves appear biased, making themselves look bad. Also, you need to work to counteract the influx of corporate money to the political process. Try to make it known what the effects of the Citizens United decision have been, and try to shine a light on where conservatives' campaign money is coming from.

I wish you good luck, and please know that there is a large, progressive community in the United States, I think the majority of Americans in the larger sense. The more you listen to us, the more we will be solidly behind you.

Yours, M. Robert Warden, Jr.

November 3

Dealing with Preoperational Voters

Although yesterday's election was distressing from my perspective in terms of nationwide results, especially in the House of Representatives, from a personal standpoint, and for my state of California, the results were pretty good, plus the Dems retained a majority in the Senate. Most of the Democratic/Progressive candidates I voted for won, and the propositions I cared about the most went the way I hoped. Number 23 which would have repealed environmental protection laws, lost, and Proposition 25, which changed the vote needed in order to pass a state budget to a simple majority, passed. Results seem mixed on other propositions and it is difficult for me to remember all of these results. The best thing about the election in California, however, is that it once again showed the limits of money in the political process. Rich people cannot buy their way into office, no matter how much they blitz the public with advertizing. The defeats of Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, despite spending many millions of their own dollars on their campaigns, are just the latest example. Actually, Arianna Huffington's husband at the time, as I recall was another such candidate in California. Like Fiorina and Whitman, he was a Republican, but his wife turned out to be a progressive who founded The Huffington Post, quite a twist of fate.

However, the ignorance of the majority of American voters continues to be unbelievably distressing. A recent survey found that 52 percent of voters thought that the Obama administration had raised their taxes, even though he lowered taxes for almost everyone, while only 19 percent knew that he had lowered taxes. Apparently, 29% admitted to having no idea how to answer the question. Another question was about the expansion of the economy. The large majority of respondents thought that the GDP of the United States has been decreasing since Obama became President, although actually it has been increasing and there have also been incremental decreases in the jobless rate (although not the large decreases in joblessness hoped for).

Jean Piaget, who was a precocious genius from Switzerland who was trained as a biologist (and finished his Ph.D. in Biology at the age of 20), eventually turned his attention to cognitive development, studying his own children at first, and eventually, studying other people's children. According to the theory of cognitive development that he, well, developed, children go through 4 stages of cognitive development. Although his theory has some smallish flaws, is too rigid since it is a stage theory, and does not adequately account for the effects of culture, family life, lifestyle, and especially education on cognitive development, it has remained a well-supported and useful theory for describing cognitive development in children since Piaget developed his theory around the 1930s. Piaget never studied adults, however. One of the interesting findings from more recent research on Piaget's theory, but studying adults as well as children, is that children advance cognitively more quickly than Piaget stated from his findings, yet, strangely enough, adults once studied, have been found to be less advanced in their cognitive development for the most part than they should be. My explanation for the lousy cognitive level of approximately half of adults, which also agrees with the explanation of some other psychologists, is that many adults may actually regress in their cognitive development, based upon their lifestyle as well as lack of intellectual interest. The final stage of Piaget's theory is called the Formal Operational Period, which begins around the start of adolescence, and is characterized by abstract thinking. However, about half of adults, according to research, appear to be thinking in a Concrete Operational mode, which is the third stage of Piaget's theory, in which children are able to think logically about problems involving real objects, and solve such problems, but are unable to transcend the limitations of dealing with the physical reality of the moment in one's thought processes. In other words, they cannot hypothesize, theorize, metaphorize, or generalize concepts in any appreciable way.

After viewing the results of the above mentioned research, however, it has occured to me that a sizeable percentage of adults not only appear to regress to concrete operational thinking, but continue to regress to the Preopertional Period of cognitive development (Piaget's second stage), in which young children (age range -- 2 to 7 years old) are imbued with magical thinking and are easily fooled by appearances. This is exactly what is happening to a substantial proportion of the American electorate, it seems to me, perhaps more than half of them! Constantly barrage the public with negative messages about the "liberal, tax and spend party" (as if governments were not supposed to tax the public and spend the tax money on needed services), and somehow, the majority of the public magically believes that the "liberal" party in power has raised their taxes, even when the opposite is clearly true. Pound the public with the message that our economy is bad and getting worse, and that it is the fault of the current majority party, not the predecessors who drove the economy off the road, and most of the electorate will believe that, too, magically erasing their memories of the previous 28 years in which economic policy was guided almost exclusively by conservatives, who created the situation we now are in. It's like a magic trick performed for a 5 year old. Even I could fool such gullible people, and I am no magician. Lower taxes, and our budget deficits will go away as if by magic. That was one of Meg Whitman's and Carly Fiorina's main messages (along with how they would "create" millions of jobs with their CEO knowhow by "encouraging businesses to hire people" or something like that). Fortunately, the majority of Californians appear to be a little less naive than people in other parts of the nation, or the money factor for these candidates was a little too obvious, as opposed by the Citizens-United-case-fueled massive expenditure of "dark money" from big business (possibly foreign in some cases, which is something which will need to be investigated, as well as basic disclosure of where the money was coming from) used to support conservative candidates, and to take down especially progressive ones such as DeFazio, Grayson, and Feingold. Make government smaller, and it will somehow function better and yet still provide us with needed services -- if not government, then billionnaires in all of their unfathomable compassion will swoop down with gobs of money to save us! It's preoperational thinking all over again.

How should we deal with people whose thought (or lack of thought) is operating at a far lower level than they are capable of? Educate them, make them think and show them how government and the economy really works. Most of all, the Obama administration needs to improve its messaging, not to fool people or suppress the vote, as Republicans do, but to inform people, and encourage all eligible citizens to vote. Clearly, much of the public, most likely the majority, are unaware of the good things that the Obama administration has done, with health insurance reform, financial industry and credit card regulation, for example, and in many other areas, plus tax breaks and stimulus money which has helped the public and possibly averted a much worse economic disaster from occuring. Actually, for my next post, although this represents another detour from my Capital Ideas series, I am thinking of writing another letter to the Obama administration with some encouragement, but mostly, encouraging them to work on their messaging technique. I wrote about much of this before in a post entitled "How to Outmeme Conservatives," and have been concerned about how to explain true and sensible progressive ideas in such a way that the general public can understand and agree with them. At least one reader has stated that I have a talent for developing good memes, which is partly a natural extension of my personality but I must primarily credit my job, trying to explain psychology to community college students, for my messaging ability. In any case, I have listened to many of Obama's speeches, enough to know that he is good at messaging when he concentrates on that, and he must have aids who are competent at that, too. Let us put them to work, before the political situation in American gets any more ridiculous. Meanwhile, there are some areas that Republicans, if they are serious about accomplishing anything and reducing our national deficit, and Democrats should be able to agree upon, such as letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, if not for everyone, withdrawing from Afghanistan and continuing the drawdown in Iraq, which will reduce spending greatly, perhaps suspending social security payments for those who don't need it, and no more five-thousand dollar toilets (or whatever they charge) for generals or other government employees (you know, the infamous but often elusive "government waste" problem which Republicans are always talking about). But ultimately, the public must come to understand, that government is not the problem -- the corrupting power of big money and business monopolies (as opposed to small business, which is what we should be encouraging rather than monopolies) is the problem -- and good government is the solution. Why is it that we are subject to vicious political attack ads, yet self-adoring, self-serving big business ads? It's just another way of promoting the dominance of large corporations in our society while ensuring continued expansion of their owner's (not their employees') wealth, deflecting the blame for our problems from the corporatocracy to government, and making the unenlightened among us think like 5 year olds.

Here is the link to the article about the poll mentioned at the beginning of this post. http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.salon.com%2Ftechnology%2Fhow_the_world_works%2F2010%2F11%2F01%2Fthe_unbearable_stupidity_of_american_voters&h=f0a8e