Archive for the ‘Ethics & Public Policy’ Category


Sunday, November 4th, 2012

According to Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times, Mitt Romney, if elected, promises to support the following actions and policies1:
1. Cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides women with breast and cervical cancer screening as well as advice about contraception.
2. Eliminate Title X family planning funding, which would curb many women’s access to contraception.
3. Bar family planning money from going to organizations that only provide information about abortion.
4. Cut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which addresses a number of women’s health issues abroad.
5. Together with his running-mate, Congressional representative Paul Ryan, Romney has endorsed a “personhood” initiative which would treat a fertilized egg as a legal person. This would make an abortion for any reason a criminal act and prohibit the use of certain contraceptives.
6. If elected, Romney has pledged to appoint judges to the US Supreme Court who would likely reverse Roe vs. Wade, thereby making all abortions illegal again.
These positions of Romney’s would severely limit many women’s access to necessary health care and reproductive choice and do point to a clear choice in the election of Nov. 6th.
IPPA strongly opposes these severe restrictions and has from its inception supported the concept that abortion should be legal, safe and rare2. IPPA has also acknowledged the complex ethical issues surrounding abortion3. However, we have strongly urged access to informed sex-education as important to women and men to prevent unwanted pregnancies4. Most recently we have reported on a study which points to the reduction of abortions in a large group of women who had access to education about and free contraception5. IPPA strongly disagrees with these draconian restrictions favored by Romney that would limit essential health care and criminalize choice for many women.



Thursday, October 18th, 2012

–The Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal.

–In the 1964 President Johnson said all US citizens should have equal rights.

–Our Constitution says we all enjoy the right of equal protection under the law.

–Our collective national ethos says equal opportunity for all is a hallmark of our democracy.

But equal really means “as close as we can get.”  At best, our citizens, our government, our businesses, mass communication, and our cultural and educational institutions share a common goal of treating everyone the same in all our transactions, unless there is a valid reason for not doing so (e.g. special parking places for the handicapped) At worst, the goal is tossed aside and we enter a free-for-all of everyone for themselves.  Folks, we are rapidly approaching that worst.

Where you live, how much money you have, and the color of your skin are the first and foremost determinants of how fairly your equal rights will be applied, what kind of legal protection you will get, and what social and economic opportunities will be available to you.  Paradoxically, although we have put in place numerous laws designed to accomplish equal rights and equal opportunity—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and affirmative action and equal opportunity requirements in hiring and admission to universities for example—actual opportunities between upper and lower income citizens are not fairly distributed.  This unfair distribution clearly parallels the income gap between upper and lower class wage earners, and like the income gap, the opportunity gap is also widening.   Because no matter how many laws are in place, in actual practice, the power of money to influence politics and social policy trumps actual enforcement of laws and regulations. (more…)


Thursday, September 13th, 2012

A year has past since President Obama proposed to Congress the American Jobs Act, which had the potential to create over a million jobs. The Republicans, who hold the majority in the House of Representatives refused to consider it and the minority Republicans in the Senate blocked a vote on it by threatening a filibuster. Now, after the blatant obstructionism, the Congressional Republican leadership as well as the Republican president and vice-presidential candidates are exploiting this alleged policy failure, for political gain, by pointing out the disappointing jobs numbers last week and claiming that this is the result of the failure of President Obama’s policies1. This seems to be both unfair and extremely hypocritical. In fact, the failure of Congress to pass the American Jobs Act is due directly to Republican obstructionism and is both irrational and certainly not in the country’s best interest. Since the beginning of the 2008 recession, both in the US and around the world, there is a myriad of evidence that temporary increases in stimulus spending boost employment while austerity induced spending cuts lead to more unemployment.

Both Moody’s Analytics and the Economic Policy Institute have predicted that if Congress had passed the American Jobs Act between 1.9 and 2.6 million new jobs would have been created. This would have lowered the national unemployment rate that’s now over 8% to perhaps 7.1%. The Macroeconomic Advisors agreed and along with Goldman Sachs, estimated that there would have been a boost of the GDP of 1.5%2. The bill, if passed, would have provided an economic boost nationwide through investments in infrastructure projects as well as tax credits for working Americans and employers which would have given a boost to consumer spending. As important, it would have supplemented State budgets all over the country thereby preventing further layoffs of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public safety officials.

As pointed out in the blog entry of 7-24-2012, the loss of public job growth in the last 3 years due to the lack of continued stimulus to the public sector of the economy is the single biggest factor in the slower than expected country-wide job growth and in preventing more vigorous economic recovery3.  IPPA strongly feels that there is an ethical imperative for the Republicans in Congress to stop this hypocritical obstructionist stance and pass the American Jobs Act immediately. Our country needs and deserves this added stimulus right now.




Friday, August 10th, 2012

Voter ID laws are unnecessary and undemocratic

Reports of polling place voter fraud are very rare. The incidence was 0.0009% in a review of the 2004 Washington State governor’s race. The same year in Ohio, a review of that year’s election revealed a fraud rate of 0.0004%1. An evaluation of the 2004 election in Wisconsin came up with a 0.0007% voter fraud rate. Studies to determine the amount of improper voting showed that most was either improper voter registration or ineligibility of someone with a previous felony conviction. According to Spencer Overton, a George Washington University law professor and former member of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, “a photo ID requirement would prevent over 1000 or perhaps 10,000 legitimate votes for very single improper vote prevented”2.

Voter ID laws, which are largely championed by Republican and conservative groups, have a disproportionate negative voter eligibility effect on minority groups [African-Americans and Latinos], young voters, the elderly and people with disabilities. These groups, in a large majority tend to vote democratic. There is also a significant cost to taxpayers in states that have passed these laws to educate voters and provide for the photo ID’s. [It’s been estimated at $20 million in North Carolina.] Also in many states several identification forms are required to qualify for a government issued photo ID and many potential voters who will need to obtain them cannot do so because of cost or inability to get time off work.3

The Brennan Center for Justice says that these laws may disenfranchise as many as 3.2 million of the 29 million citizens of voting age in 5 states where new photo ID laws will go into effect for the 2012 election. [Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin]4. Charles Brow, quoting the Brennan Center, reports that prior to the 2006 general election no states in this country required a government issued photo ID as a qualification for voting5. It hardly seems a coincidence that once Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, those opposed to his reelection would come up with plans to suppress the vote of those groups who so strongly supported him and many other successful Democrats in 2008. The takeover of many state legislatures and governorships since 2008 has certainly facilitated this movement. Even in 2008 there was beginning concern that “voter fraud” was a myth and had already become a partisan issue. Also, it pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court, by upholding Indiana’s voter ID law showed that it “will not perform its historic role of protecting voters”6. This movement toward universal voter ID requirements can certainly be considered a sad, outrageous and undemocratic move to reverse the amazing progress throughout the last century, beginning with the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement and voting laws of the 1960’s to encourage universal voter participation for all eligible voters.

For an excellent summary of these issues and documentation of other voter suppression laws and how these actions, if unchallenged, could change the electoral landscape please look at a summary of voting law changes in 2012 from the  Brennan Center for Justice7.  For a discussion of the complexities of evaluating the truth in voter fraud claims see the current article by Steven Rosenfeld in AterNet8   Also see an article by Bill Blum in Truthdig for a discussion of past, current and future worrisome role of the U.S. Supreme Court in evaluating these ubiquitous voter suppression laws9.


2. Diannis, Judith Browne, Five Myths about voter fraud. Washington Post opinions, 10/04/2011


4. Summary

5. Blow, Charles W. Where’s the Outrage? OpEd New York Times 7/28/2012

6. The Myth of Voter Fraud. Editorial New York Times 5/13/08

7.  changes.8.




Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Summary: Additional information has become available since our blog entry on 6/28/2012 on the importance of further stimulus to the Public sector economy of the United States .  A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute concludes that the lack of continued stimulus to the Public Sector is the single biggest factor responsible for inadequate country-wide job growth over the past 3 years.1 IPPA contends that this is a serious ethical as well as an economic concern. IPPA feels that this failure for Congress to provide further stimulus as a result of Republican unwavering resistance is not only immoral but unpatriotic.

The 2009 stimulus and the auto industry rescue, supported by President Obama and Congressional democrats, cushioned the serious effects of the recession Obama inherited. The mainstay of these initial stimulus efforts was Federal aid to States. The subsequent Republican opposition to providing a second federal stimulus in 2010 and ultimately also blocking President Obama’s $450 billion jobs bill in late 2011 has resulted in a catastrophic negative effect on State budgets and secondarily on public sector jobs.2

A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute states that the loss of 627,000 public sector jobs since 2009, largely due to State budget cuts, has been the major negative effect on job growth in the last three years. This, as severe and disruptive as it is, understates the severity of the problem. Judging by population growth in those years the Public Sector should have added nearly 500,000 jobs simply to restore the level of local government services to the norm of the last 20 years. This widespread shortage of public sector jobs includes teachers, social workers, public health officials, and other professionals, along with police and firefighters–jobs that might have been available for the many currently unemployed recent college graduates.

An additional disaster is that this 1.1 million deficiency in public sector jobs translates into some 750,000 lost jobs in the private sector. This is a result of less spending by laid-off state and local government as well as private contractors losing out on government projects. Another 400,000 jobs may have been lost because of reduced consumer spending because states have made cuts in aid to the poor and unemployed. These compounded effects quickly spread and the nationwide economy suffers.

The Economic policy Institute concludes that if it were not for this widespread forced State and local government austerity [which the IMF has recently cautioned against and the European Union has finally realized that stimulus is needed to produced growth3] there would have been as many as 2.3 million jobs nationally and the unemployment rate would be more like 7% instead of the current 8.2%.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a Nobel Prize winner to conclude that this country needs immediate Federal stimulus to the Public Sector to help alleviate the widespread suffering this lack of job availability is causing nationwide. IPPA stands on the principle that this existing lack of Congressional response is a moral issue as well as an economic one. IPPA states that for the Republicans in Congress to continue to thwart and threaten to filibuster President Obama’s attempts to alleviate these dire and unnecessary circumstances is both immoral and unpatriotic.

1. Blevins, Josh and Shierholz, Three years into recovery, just how much has state and local austerity hurt job growth? 6/6/12 The Economc Policy Institute Blog




Saturday, July 14th, 2012

We should all be celebrating the US Supreme Court’s historic decision affirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act that finally will provide health care for all Americans. It will further provide many innovations for better coverage for those fortunate enough to already have insurance, and provides for those who do not. The law was passed by Congress in 2009 after strong urging by President Obama and now after many inconclusive federal court challenges, has finally become the law of the land. IPPA maintains that, after decades of effort,what has been realized is that health care for all American citizens is a moral imperative. This places our country, finally, in concert with the other industrialized countries of the world.

Hooray! for the “ Health Care for Americans Act”: IPPA suggests  a new name for the Affordable Care Act.  The new name–Health Care for Americans Act–conveys the metaphor that health care for all is patriotic, and that we’re all affected by public health. It stresses that it benefits the entire country, and that it’s in the long tradition of Americans helping one another1.

Now let’s stop agonizing and grumbling over what is not in the bill and celebrate the many important benefits that are in the Health Care for Americans Act:

1. Perhaps the least understood and discussed, as far as a benefit to our whole society, is the provision for health care for the 30 million previously uninsured American citizens.

This represents a moral victory, the simple decency of providing health security for millions of American families. It also has  the potential for improving public health at large, and is a huge benefit for society as a whole2.

In addition, the new law3:

2. Terminates the “doughnut hole” in medicare drug coverage for millions of Americans.

3. Provides a long-overdue expansion of mental health care.

4. There is an end to limits on lifetime and annual benefits in existing and future health insurance coverage.

5. There can be no rejection in new or renewable health insurance policies for pre- existing conditions.

6. Children up to age 26 may stay on their parents’ health  insurance.

7. There is a requirement that medium and large size businesses provide essential coverage and pay at least 60% of the cost.

8. Health insurance policies must contain free access to preventive care including  immunizations, mammograms, and pregnancy prevention [formally called birth control]4.

9. Some additional benefits specifically for women include; elimination of gender rating, pap tests, domestic violence screening and assurances of continuation of maternity benefits and special considerations for nursing mothers at work5.

As an added benefit, in the Health Care for Americans Act are  many incentives for reducing future health care costs such as the one that requires insurance companies to spend at least 80% of premium cost on direct patient care. Also there are many pilot proposals to explore ways to control costs by changing existing fee for service payments and assisting changes in their organization so that health care institutions can be more efficient and responsive. There is also a premium placed on implementing patient safety throughout the health care system.

IPPA strongly encourages all of us to celebrate this historic progress in health care for all Americans.

1. Lakoff, George and Wehling, Elisabeth, The Little Blue Book, Free Press, New York             2012, p.116.

2. Too Quiet Again on Health Care. Editorial in NYTimes [NYT] July4, 2012

3. NYT July 4, 2012

4. Lakoff p.125



Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Summary: The continuing and accelerating loss of jobs in the public sector is a major factor in retarding our country’s economic recovery. President Obama has promoted a rational plan for new stimulus to stem the job losses at the State and local level intended to bring relief to the middle class —and alleviate the misery and hardship of these laid off workers and their families. The Republican members of congress have put up continual roadblocks to prevent implementation of such a plan. IPPA calls for a populist outcry of support for this very necessary stimulus—and direct communications with our representatives demanding passage of enabling legislation.

Private companies have been adding workers for more than two years, but in the public sector work force pink slips are still going out1. Since reaching employment peaks in August of 2008–largely due to the often maligned federal stimulus program–local governments have lost 496,000 jobs and state governments 159,000, through December 2011. 50% of the state losses and 30% of the local one occurred during 2011, indicating that the problem is accelerating2.

With the overall economy slowly expanding, state tax revenues have started to increase and are expected to reach pre-recession levels next year3. Even so governors and legislators are keeping a tight rein on spending, whether to rebuild the state “rainy-day funds” or because of political ideology. The effect of continued layoffs includes a siphoning off of $1.5 billion in spending power. The ill effects of this policy are not just economic. They also affect public service: they decrease local firefighter response; they reduce public safety with police layoffs. Businesses are hindered by losing middle class customers. Construction projects are delayed due to reduction of city inspectors. (more…)

Republican Leninism in America

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

In January, 2012 IPPA.US posted a brief essay on  “Close-mindedness and Rigid Ideology” in the Republican Party, reflected  in Grover Norquist’s seeking pledges from candidates not to raise taxes;  and if they refused, he would tar and feather them in the eyes of their voters. No discussion on the issues allowed. Similarly, the Republican Susan B. Anthony (SBA) organization follows suit on women’s reproductive issues, blocking all debate on Life/Choice matters by Republican candidates for federal office. Sign the Pro-Life Citizens’ Pledge, or prepare to fear that SBA will publicly smear you! Among other things, the pledge signer must agree “to defund Planned Parenthood.”

This rejection of diversity of perspective illustrates how the Republicans have copied Soviet Leninism, which means once the Party Leaders decide what is right or wrong, no further discussion is permitted, and those who violate the policy will be punished. Now in Michigan, at the state level, this Republican Leninism is manifest again. In the State House, Republican State Representative Mike Shirkey said, “Until we completely eliminate abortions in Michigan and completely defund Planned Parenthood, we have work to do.” Along with other Representatives from his Party, he passed legislation on June 13, 2012, attacking women’s reproductive health. When Democratic State Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum tried to speak against the relevant bills, the House Speaker, Jase Bolger, using as an excuse a lack of decorum, banned them from speaking on the House floor.

Leninists present a unified force when they attack. And the Republican Leninists have started a War on Women.


Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

From 1954-57 I was a young officer in the U.S. Navy. I loved the Navy and learned a lot that has served me well throughout my life. Even today I experience visceral awe at the sight of a naval ship—a somewhat sacred icon for me. But I learned something else in the Navy: total faith in the Chain-of-Command, from our President and admirals, right down to me, in all matters of national defense policy. That faith was shattered when, beginning around 1968- 1969 I gradually learned (from journalists and some academics), that Presidents and generals lie (in this case about the Vietnam War). I changed my mind about which moral authorities to trust, and changed my political perspective for the rest of my life. More on this experience later. Let’s get on with how IPPA may help with changing your mind.

First, let us get the history out of the way. What is this “mind”? In the West, until the late 1960s, even in psychological circles, the mind was usually divided into three parts: knowing, feeling, and acting (including motives). To change your mind meant reasoning something through and reaching a different conclusion from your previous one. In 1968 the standard Handbook in Social Psychology1 said, “The question arises of how closely the cognitive, affective, and conative components are related. If all three give approximately the same results, one should perhaps apply Ocam’s razor to reduce conceptual baggage.” [p. 56] The use of MRI and other technology in later decades showed that the aspects of the brain where the activities of these components take place are indeed interconnected. Where there is knowing, there is usually emotion, something the early Chinese Confucian texts also affirmed. So changing the mind involves a lot of emotional activity, which influences the knowing or cognitive parts of the brain. This is especially true when it comes to thinking or judging moral or political matters.

In recent years, the terminology has evolved. Following Daniel Kahneman,2  some people now divide the mind into effortless intuitions (including gut emotional responses), and effortful reasoning. In humans, the pupils of the eyes dilate when people exert mental effort. It takes effort to keep in one’s memory a couple of different ideas needing action. Where there are beliefs and considered choices, there is effort. In contrast, our effortless gut reactions owe much to their evolution in emergencies, as ways of quick survival for humans. They are without effort, not under voluntary control.

Jonathan Haidt goes a step further in The Righteous Mind (Pantheon: 2012). He tries to demonstrate that people cannot change their minds, or “moral foundations,” where those terms refer to effortless moral intuitions. It refers to them, because he says that those intuitions rule reason. Beliefs are simply post-hoc justifications or positions to which the gut intuitions have already led us. So now, the content of “mind” is primarily the ruling sentiments/social emotions/ intuitions, and secondarily, cognition. According to Haidt, one could divide people into two political stances based on the relative strength of certain intuitions: Liberals emote positively about Care, Liberty, and Fairness. Conservatives react primarily about Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. To repeat, most people cannot change their minds in their moral and political judgments, and their reasoning obeys these intuitions.

Is Haidt right? He has plenty of evidence that it is very difficult to use reasoning to try to change the specific moral intuitions that are dominant in anyone. So, I do not think IPPA’s target should be the very conservative right wing. The “change” we can hope for will not come by that group turning into progressives. The target should be the inactive liberals, and IPPA’s strategies should seek to persuade and push its target audience to decide to do something concrete—like vote, talk to neighbors about the issues, write letters, and donate time or money.  We should select tools for persuasion that appeal to emotionally laden values, including the the ones not cited by Haidt, that I identify below.:. Along with my experience at town meetings in the early 2000’s, Jonathan Haidt has led me to be pretty sure that this approach would be most effective.

Let us consider Haidt’s list of moral intuitions: Care/harm, Fairness as proportionality/cheating, Liberty/oppression, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/ subversion, Sanctity/degradation:

In contrast to his list, I believe there are intuitions shared by many people on both the left and right that he does not even mention. Their presence is important because they may open the door to modifying the sense of disunity between the political left and some who are passive, or even on the moderate right. I was shocked to find that those intuitions that pop first into my mind when I judge something as right or wrong were not also in a prominent place in Haidt’s list. He gives a descriptive account of values/virtues that he and others discovered through experiments. I do not say that his list is inaccurate, just that it is odd not to mention any of the four following intuitions. (more…)


Thursday, March 8th, 2012

An enduring debate in our country concerns whether or not the central government has any positive role to play in the life of corporations. Much has already been written about the deregulation of businesses starting around 1980, symbolized by the repeal of parts of the Glass-Steagall Act that separated investment and commercial banking, in 1999. The new documentary, “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?” provides a summary of the evidence that government regulation of business is central to the flourishing of democracy.  Recently, Mitt Romney has criticized the government role in saving the Detroit auto companies from total liquidation, by saying that no government infusion of money was needed. On the contrary, the following blog argues that the federal bailout was necessary and successful, another example of one of government’s positive roles. (more…)