Politics Archive

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 7 - Honesty & Constitutional Literacy

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, in particular by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

The article for today is A Plea For Constitutional Literacy On Constitution Day.

This article had some good points, but Carson turned me off right from the beginning by misrepresenting the interview he brought up in the opening paragraph. Here's what Carson wrote.

Earlier this summer, I managed to perplex, perhaps even offend, a famous TV interviewer when I declared I wanted a federal government that followed the U.S. Constitution. Seemingly aghast, the interviewer went so far as to suggest my position was a "highly charged thing to say."

Imagine that. A journalist who, owing to the Constitution, has the right to report freely and to speak freely, being uncomfortable to hear a fellow American swear allegiance to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers' vision of a limited central government.

Carson was referring to this interview with David Gregory on Press Pass, Dr. Ben Carson on PRESS Pass: 'I will never become a politician'. Carson implies that Gregory was "aghast" (which he wasn't - watch the interview) that someone would want to follow the Constitution. Although the wording's slightly ambiguous, Carson seems to be accusing Gregory of being "uncomfortable to hear a fellow American swear allegiance to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers' vision of a limited central government." What Gregory actually said was, "There are some people who say that. That's a very highly charged thing to say. Where is the Constitution not placed in the right level today?" Gregory was obviously not shocked at someone wanting to follow the Constitution, just calling attention to Carson's implication that the Constitution is no longer being followed.

And yes, I realize that practically everyone in politics lies or stretches the truth to some degree, so it's not as if Carson's misrepresentation here is especially out of the ordinary for a political figure, but it's still off-putting to catch someone in the lie (especially someone who tries to paint himself as being an outsider to politics who's above the normal politicking).

Just to say something related to Carson's main topic, I think the expression 'Physician, heal thyself', applies here. In a previous entry, A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle, I quoted Carson on the following:

We must also go back and read the Constitution, including the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion. It says nothing about freedom from religion and, in fact, if you go back and look at the context and the lives of those involved in the crafting of our founding documents, it is quite apparent that they strongly believed in allowing their faith to guide their lives.

I wrote a longer rebuttal in that entry, but anybody who can read the Constitution where it says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." and not realize it means freedom from religion imposed by the government isn't making a very strong case for their own constitutional literacy.

Summary on RealBenCarson.com: A Plea For Constitutional Literacy On Constitution Day

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Continue to Part 8 - Torture

Added 2015-03-04: I just came across an article detailing another instance of Carson having less than stellar constitutional literacy, Forbes - Ben Carson's Odd Notion Of The Constitution And Same-Sex Marriage. This one describes how Carson thinks Congress has the power to overturn court rulings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 6 - Equal Opportunity

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, in particular by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

Today's entry examines the article, Overcoming Hardship To Survive & Thrive.

This is probably the article where I was most in agreement with Carson (though still not completely). He makes some good points, and I think the mindset of individuals has to be to take responsibility for themselves and try their hardest to excel. There's not much to disagree with in passages like this*:

There is a long list of factors highly correlated with success regardless of the environment. They include strong supportive families, a sense of personal responsibility, good role models, faith that produces a sense of purpose and values, hard work, confidence, courage, emphasis on education and caring neighbors.

But I think that as a society, we should step back and look at what obstacles might be keeping certain segments of the population from achieving their full potential. It's not enough to tell kids to work hard if there's a good chance their efforts aren't going to be rewarded.

Here's a revealing graph from the Economic Policy Institute's The State of Working America site, where they used eighth grade math scores as a proxy for academic achievement**.

Share of students completing college, by socioeconomic status and eighth-grade test scores

Students who perform well but have a low socioeconomic status only have a 28.8% chance of graduating from college, while students who perform poorly but come from a high socioeconomic status have a 30.3% chance of graduating from college. In other words, poor performing wealthy students have better odds of graduating from college than high performing poor students. The discrepancy's even worse when you see that nearly three quarters of high performing wealthy students will complete college.

So even the low-income students who are doing everything Carson seems to be saying they should do, just don't have the same opportunities as high-income students. If it was all down to initiative, those hard working low income students would be just as well represented in universities as their more well-off counterparts. The fact is, the luck of the draw in being born to parents of a certain income level has huge implications for the opportunities you'll have in life. And with income and wealth inequality both increasing (source - Pew Research - U.S. income inequality, on rise for decades, is now highest since 1928), this disparity is only going to grow, and the problem is only going to be exacerbated by rising tuition costs thanks to cuts to university funding.

Carson mentioned his scholarship program which I realize is an attempt to help with this, and which is certainly commendable, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the magnitude of the problem.

So I agree with Carson that individuals must do everything within their own power to be successful, and their local communities must do all they can to help. But we must also realize that the deck is stacked against them, and that if we want America to truly be a land of opportunity where anybody can be successful through their own efforts, we'll have to institute systematic solutions to try to address those obstacles.

Related Entry:

Summary on RealBenCarson.com: Overcoming Hardship To Survive & Thrive

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Continue to Part 7 - Honesty & Constitutional Literacy

*Of course, I'm still not in total agreement with that excerpt. He just had to slip in that part about faith producing purpose and values. Here's an article highlighting some of the studies showing where the non-religious and secular exhibit the same or better values than the religious, Misinformation and facts about secularism and religion.

**A recent NPR interview with Tom Harkin, Senator Warns Of A Student Loan Bubble, quotes the senator on a more direct statistic than relying on eighth grade math scores. I haven't been able to track down the source of this stat, and given the EPI's graph that I included up above, Harkin's statement seems like it may be exaggerated. However, without knowing how he's defining income or performance, there's no way of knowing for sure. At any rate, here it is for reference.

Right now, if you are a high-income, low performance student, you have an 80 percent chance of going to college. If you are a low-income student, but high-performing with a B or better average, you only have a 20 percent chance of going to college.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 5 - Global Warming

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, mainly by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

For this entry, I'm actually going to break from the original articles I'd found on RealBencarson.com, and look at his position on global warming. In an interview towards the end of last year, Carson made some troubling statements about global warming. The statements can be found in the Bloomberg article, Ben Carson Not Convinced on Global Warming:

"There's always going to be either cooling or warming going on," the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate said in an interview this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa. "As far as I'm concerned, that's irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment."

Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, often talks about his medical background and science during his speeches. Pressed on the fact that the bulk of the scientific community believes the Earth is indeed warming, Carson pivoted. "You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same," he said. "We may be warming. We may be cooling."

Let me get the obvious out of the way, first. Global warming is real and caused primarily by people. I wrote about this seven years ago in the entry, Global Warming - It's Real, And We're Causing It, and the evidence and scientific consensus have only grown stronger since then (the latest by Phil Plait, No, Adjusting Temperature Measurements Is Not a Scandal, is a good recent discussion). I have another entry from that same year, Political Litmus Test, where I explain why I would never vote for somebody who didn't accept global warming - "to reject anthropogenic global climate change altogether requires ... that someone lacks knowledge of the issue, is willing to ignore the consensus of experts, and is willing to ignore evidence in favor of their ideology." Add to that the actual danger associated with global warming and the necessity of politicians doing something about it.

I'm glad Carson thinks we have 'an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment', but you can't do that properly if you ignore the largest threat to the environment in historical times*. Acknowledging that climate change is real means taking vastly different approaches to public policy. Of course, there are obvious examples like coastal habitats - don't conservation efforts in the Everglades seem futile if we do nothing to stop global warming and let them become ocean in a hundred years (see this interactive map on sea level rise - Global Warming Art - Sea Level Rise Explorer)? There's also the acidification of the oceans and effects on corals, not to mention major climatic shifts changing rainfall patterns on land, or the much publicized melting of the polar ice caps and the effects that's having on arctic creatures, etc. Given that global warming is such a huge driver of changes to the climate, it must be an integral part of any comprehensive environmental conservation plan.

Carson has made similar statements about global warming before. Here's a quote from an editorial he wrote early last year, Energy's role in the path to peace:

Whether we are experiencing global warming or a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s, we as responsible human beings must be concerned about our surroundings and what we will pass on to future generations. However, to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense. Expanding our wealth of energy resources, as well as encouraging the development of new renewable energy sources, would provide an enormous economic lift with obvious benefits, but it also would bolster our role as a formidable player in the struggle for world leadership.

When he says that "to use climate change as an excuse not to develop our God-given resources makes little sense", I don't think I'm reading too much into that by interpreting it to mean that he thinks we should continue to use coal, oil, and other fossil fuels at current rates (because no one's using climate change as an excuse to not develop renewable energy sources). This is, quite simply, a horrible idea. Since global warming is real, using more fossil fuels is going to make the problem worse. It is exactly the reason why we should slow down on 'developing' those particular resources.

If there were no global warming, there would still be concerns over methods of extraction and ways to clean up the exhaust (such as scrubbers), but coal and oil are wonderfully convenient energy sources. And they're still fairly plentiful, with many decades of oil left, and probably at least a century of coal left (source - World Coal Association). Without global warming, we could budget research on renewable energy at a far lower rate, since we'd still have plenty of time before we'd have to transition.

But global warming is a reality, so we as a civilization must try to drastically slow down our use of fossil fuels and develop alternative renewable energy technologies. Well, I say 'must', but it really depends on what consequences you're willing to live with - more extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts, and floods and the deaths they'll cause, rising sea levels and shrinking coastlines including the inundation of major cities and entire islands, disruptions to the food supply, more wildfires, disruptions to fresh water supplies, mass extinction, etc. (more info - Union of Concerned Scientists - Global Warming Impacts). It's not going to be the complete downfall of civilization or the extinction of every living thing on earth, but it's going to be a lot of suffering and expense that could be avoided with some increased funding right now. Personally, I see it as a no-brainer, but if you only care about yourself and don't give a damn about future generations, then I suppose you might want to just continue on with the status quo. I think Carson probably does care about future generations, but you can't address the effects of climate change if you don't first accept the reality of it.

I also can't let slide the statement he made about "a coming ice age, which was predicted in the 1970s". This is at best misleading, at worst a lie. A minority of scientists in the '70s were predicting an ice age, but the majority even then were predicting global warming (Skeptical Science - What were climate scientists predicting in the 1970s?). Only a tenth of the of papers published between 1965 and 1979 predicted cooling, while nearly two thirds predicted global warming, and the consensus has only grown stronger in the 35 years since then.

It's not like this is the issue that's finally pushed me over the edge in not supporting Carson. I wasn't too found of him based on everything else I'd read prior to this. But even if I didn't know all those other things and this was the first I'd heard about him, it would be enough to disqualify him as a viable presidential candidate. Our politicians must start addressing climate change much more aggressively if we want to avoid passing on all the associated suffering to future generations. And the first part of that action is acknowledging the reality of human caused climate change.

Related Entries:

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Continue to Part 6 - Equal Opportunity

*Note that global warming isn't the only current environmental threat. Habitat destruction is another huge one, and why it's frustrating to see some of the proposals to address global warming that worsen the habitat loss problem.

Updated 2015-02-18: Added links to related entries. Slightly reworded one sentence to read better (but not changing the meaning).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson - Index

Ben CarsonPrompted by a political discussion with a friend, I decided to take a closer look at Ben Carson. My main method was reading articles that Carson himself has written, but I've also looked at a few other articles quoting him. Although it's taken me until midway through the series, I've made this page as an index, providing links to all of the other entries in the series. I've also included links to the previous entries I'd written about Carson.

Series Index

Previous Entries

New Entries

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 4 - Ebola

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, in particular by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

Today, I'm taking a look at his article, How To Keep Ebola Out Of America.

Out of the five articles I read at the start of this project, this is the worst. It is irresponsible fear mongering. Yes, Ebola is a major concern, and is something that needs to be monitored very closely. And Carson made some good points about expanding research and support in Africa. But Carson goes too far in wanting to temporarily exile citizens.

For this reason, I and many others are not comfortable with the idea of bringing infected individuals into our midst when we can readily treat them elsewhere. We can happily receive them back once the infectious danger has passed. When one does a logical benefit-to-risk analysis, it is clear that the worst things that could happen by intentionally bringing this dangerous disease to America are far worse than the best things that could happen.

To claim that U.S. citizens should not be allowed to return to the U.S. for treatment of Ebola is ludicrous. Despite the problems with our health care system discussed in the previous entry of this series, the U.S. still has first class quality of care. And the risk of an Ebola epidemic in the U.S. is miniscule.

Statements like the following are especially irresponsible:

I have no desire to induce panic, but we must realize that some viruses are known to undergo mutations, which make them even more virulent. If the Ebola virus becomes even more pathologic, the ensuing panic and destruction of human life could go far beyond what is currently being acknowledged.

Evolutionary biologists who specialize in this very issue have studied Ebola and determined that it's very unlikely that Ebola will mutate into a "super-pathogen" (N.Y. Times - Scientists Rein In Fears of Ebola, a Virus Whose Mysteries Tend to Invite Speculation). The article paraphrased the biologist, Edward Holmes, on such a possibility.

But it would be a mistake, he warned, to imagine that with a single mutation Ebola might become an airborne pathogen. The change would require many mutations in many genes, and it might be nearly impossible for so many mutations to emerge during a single outbreak. The mutated viruses would survive only if they were superior to the ones spread by bodily fluids.

Holmes was quoted in another portion of the article, making a statement that I very much agree with, and that I think is particularly relevant to articles like this from Carson.

"I've been dismayed by some of the nonsense speculation out there," said Edward Holmes, a biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. "I understand why people get nervous about this, but as scientists we need to be very careful we don't scaremonger."

Carl Zimmer, the writer of that previously linked article, has another good article comparing Ebola with the flu, that helps put into perspective the dangers of this virus (As Ebola Spreads, So Have Several Fallacies). By way of comparison, the flu kills around 36,000 people in the U.S. every year, while this current Ebola outbreak had only three confirmed cases in the U.S. at the time Carson had written his article, and only one more since. I don't mean to trivialize the disease, but people's fear of it is way out of proportion to the risk it poses.

And just imagine if a plan like Carson's were to be implemented - it could have a chilling effect on volunteer efforts in Africa. How many volunteers would opt not to go to Africa to help if they knew their reward would be refusal back into the U.S.? And what would this decrease in volunteers do to treatment efforts in affected areas?

Carson's statements are especially troubling given that he is an M.D., and that many people in the general public won't pick up on the distinction of him being a surgeon vs. an epidemiologist. He should be more careful when speaking outside of his particular medical field.

This was an extremely irresponsible article on Carson's part. It just enhances the disproportionate paranoia in the public over this disease.

Summary on RealBenCarson.com: How To Keep Ebola Out Of America

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Continue to Part 5 - Global Warming


Selling Out