Obama, Oil, and Lip-Service to Democracy

I think that the United States should promote Democracy, and our “elected” leaders say they also value it.  Noe however that when it comes to actually paying respect to Democracies, its instructive to look at how Hugo Chavez and King Abdullah were greeted by the White House upon their deaths.

King Abdullah “had the courage of his convictions” while Hugo Chavez was mentioned only in so far as “the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principals and the rule of law”.  Its too bad that we don’t value those things when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

This is of course driven by power and oil.  Both are important oil producing countries, but one collaborates with the United States and the other does not.

Source.

The Cause of Addiction

I’ve seen several things recently that have argued that drug abuse is closely connected with bad environments, especially abuse as a child.  This anecdote is a great summary of why that is:

In the 1970s, Vancouver psychology professor Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Alexander built Rat Park, a lush cage where the rats had colored balls and the best rat food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, would happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats had used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

Obama vs Republican Standards

I thought this quick analysis from Rachel Maddow on how to judge the Obama administration’s progress  is worth remembering:
  • The Romney Standard: Mitt Romney said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans elect him, he’d get the unemployment rate down to 6% by 2016. Obama won anyway and the unemployment rate dropped below 6% two years faster.
  • The Gingrich Standard: Newt Gingrich said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans re-elected the president, gas prices would reach $10 per gallon, while Gingrich would push gas down to $2.50 a gallon. As of this morning, the national average at the pump is a little under $2.38.
  •  The Pawlenty Standard: Tim Pawlenty said trillions of dollars in tax breaks would boost economic growth to 5% GDP. Obama actually raised taxes on the wealthy and GDP growth reached 5% anyway.
Romney’s prediction was as good as predicting the sun will come up in two years if he’s elected.
I don’t know anyone who predicted the gas price swing.
Pawlenty’s prediction was made possible by the first Obama administration.  Without the Bush/Obama Stimulus packages, we would be far behind now.

Voting for your “Team” more important than their policies

This article from the Washington Post discusses the psychology of voting one’s interest verses voting for ones’ party.

Alaska elected a Republican senator and passed a recreational marijuana initiative, along with an increase in the minimum wage. North Dakota elected a Republican congressman and rejected a Personhood amendment. Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota elected a Republican senator and governor, and passed a minimum wage increase.  This led Zachary Goldfarb to write: “Americans will vote for Republicans even though they disagree with them on everything.”

My research suggests a key reason why this happened: our partisan identities motivate us far more powerfully than our views about issues. Although voters may insist in the importance of their values and ideologies, they actually care less about policy and more that their team wins.

This “team spirit” is increasingly powerful because our party identities line up with other powerful identities, such as religion and race. Over the last few decades, Republicans have generally grown increasingly white and churchgoing, while Democrats have become more non-white and secular. This sorting of identities makes us care even more about winning, and less about what our government actually gets done.