Dr. Sam Richards: A Radical Experiment in Empathy


I just discovered Dr. Sam Richards, a sociologist at Penn State University who gives a lecture in the excellent video below.  The video focuses primarily on Iraq, but applies to US policy towards Iran and much of the middle east. It’s about 20 minutes long and well worth watching.

America could certainly use a very heavy dose of empathy and the truth.  Ignoring the truth doesn’t alter it.  Ultimately it has to be dealt with and that usually occurs at the most inconvenient time.  Our foreign policy does not benefit our citizens, but instead it puts a bullseye on each of our backs while benefiting a very small group.  But most Americans lack a full grasp of the entire picture and fail to understand how that bullseye has been placed there.  Moreover, our foreign policies are simply unsustainable from an economic standpoint and at the end of the day, we’ll have nothing but enemies while lacking the resources to protect ourselves or invest in ourselves. 

It’s clear to me that much of what we do around the world is designed to pick a fight so we can have the justification to engage in war for a resource grab.  Right now we’re at war with Iran even though formal hostilities have yet to be declared.  Iranian scientists have been assassinated,  their facilities have been sabotaged, we’re engaged in spying and a number of other things we would never accept if some nation did the same thing to us.   There’s not a day that goes by without some report of Iran doing something, but we’re not getting the full story because our provocations aren’t being reported.  This steady drumbeat ensures that we’ll probably be at war with them by summer and it will be essentially another undeclared war that the executive decides rather than the congress actually declaring it.  The so called nuclear threat is a lie.   For this reason alone, I can not vote for Obama and I certainly can’t vote Romney. So, I’ll be sitting this one out.  The only politicians that have the backbone to speak honestly to this are Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. 

For me this sort of thing is huge.  I view this first from a moral standpoint in looking at what’s right and wrong.  It’s also a big deal from the standpoint of our own rights in this country.  Here’s what I know—a tiger is a tiger in all environments and a government that will take resources from others abroad, will do the same here.  If it abuses the rights of others abroad, it will do the same thing here.  This is the logical outcome merely from the fact that these practices are perfected abroad.

It’s incompatible to be against democracy abroad while promoting it here mainly because the two positions can’t be reconciled. One only need to look at the National Defense Authorization Act, how our elections are conducted and the lies told to obfuscate the truth to see the erosion of rights here.  And once we go down that slippery slope, it’s just a matter of time before we find ourselves in the same position as those who chafe under US foreign policy abroad. 

The world is not as it’s presented in the press.  If only the citizens knew.



  • From yahoo news today.  Another Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated. As I say above, the war is already on and Iran is being provoked:


  • LTE

    Sad to know Sam Richards is on the PSU payroll. There is no cliche this guy missed.

    • Something told me you wouldn’t agree with him LTE. But I’m curious about the cliches you see.

      Seems to me that Richards is suggesting that we’re not the force for good in the world that we claim to be and that the reasons for war aren’t as what they’re frequently claimed to be.

      From: Disqus
      To: AACLARIONCALL@yahoo.com
      Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1:39 PM
      Subject: [theafricanamericanclarioncall] Re: Dr. Sam Richards: A Radical Experiment in Empathy

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      • LTE

        This guy reminded me of the Progressive/Left Wingers that trekked to the Soviet Union back in the 1920’s and 1930’s proclaiming they “had seen the future and it works”.
        Those freedom fighters in Iraq, after they blew up old men and little kids piped down after good ole Uncle Sam handed out welfare checks to them. So much for love of country.
        Sam Richards should be removed from his position and fired.
        Not every fight was for oil (this was also claimed for Vietnam), sometimes it’s misbegotten starry eyed policy coupled with a lack of will to win. The United States looks ends up looking like an idiot.

        • >>>Sam Richards should be removed from his position and fired.<<<

          what precisely is Dr. Richards' offense?  Expressing his
          views?  Actually, Richards fell far short of where he needed on this one
          as he limited his discussion to Iraq alone without establishing the
          context in which the Iraq war occurred.  The backdrop is a foreign
          policy that is very wrong headed.

          I don't believe in silencing people who have a different opinion, no matter how personally objectionable I might their views.  So, just as I'd
          support Dr. Richards freedom of speech, I also support the freedom of
          speech of someone like Patrick Buchanan, whose views on certain issues I find objectionable. 

          If the ideas or views expressed are without merit, then someone  should be easily
          challenge and refute them.    Unfortunately, there are some things we'd rather not examine in the country, so it's just easier to just silence the person that debate the issue. 

          With regard to the Iraqi insurgents, yes, the US sued for peace by buying some of them off.   Hell, at one time, even Saddam and Osama bin Laden were on our payroll, but they didn't stay bought and apparently that's the case in Iraq as well given the recent spate of attacks over there.   I think Richards analogy regarding a Chinese invasion here to appropriate coal resources is spot on.  There would be freedom fighters, there'd likely be some that would take bribes and still turn around and fight.  The key for US policy is to mind our own business and attend to affairs at home rather than get entangled in things that can only yield blowback.   But there are some who actually benefit from blowback and they're primarily the weapons manufacturers,  the energy sector and those who finance both of them.  The rest of us wind up with a bullseye on our backs sometimes dying without an understanding of how we wound up getting positioned for that.

          It's more that oil that accounts for our policy in the middle east.  It's our entire economy that hinges in resources based in other nations and that specifically applies to our monetary system which has been effectively backed by oil ever since Nixon took us off the gold standard.  This makes it critical for the US to control the region beyond just energy needs.  So the Iraqi war, the upcoming one with Iran, the on-going one with Afghanistan (who doesn't have oil, but has an abundance of natural gas) is all about the control of energy resources—-resources that exist in other countries.  They have the resources and we have the needs, so it would appear that all that really needs to occur is for them to sell it to us and for us to pay, however that's not good enough.  We have to take it for essentially nothing to support both our monetary system and our energy needs. So, just as I wouldn't be okay with someone doing that to our country, I'm not okay with us doing it to some other country.  In addition to being morally wrong, it's unsustainable from a political and economic standpoint and in a world of dwindling energy resources as we reach conditions of peak oil, our foreign policy is fraught with danger as we bump heads with other nations, primarily Russia and China, whose interests oppose ours.  If you'll notice, both of them oppose sanctions or any action against Iran.  An attack on Iran could easily spiral into a much broader conflict, which makes this even more foolish.

          Immoral, stupid and ill advised military incursions in far flung lands with a empty treasury and while being financed by China is not a blueprint for sustainability.  It's what Rome, Spain and Great Britain did and we know how that turned out. 

          • LTE

            Patrick Buchanan isn’t on a public university payroll, Richards is. Richards isn’t being silenced, he can still offer his opinions, just not on the public dime. Our university system should not be used as a glorified welfare system for loopy left wingers who have detached from reality. I’d rather see Richard’s salary dedicated to something useful like teaching poor kids HVAC so they can make a honest living.

            • I’m guessing that if Richards was expressing an opinion aligned with support of the war, this might be less of an issue in some circles.  There are all sorts of people who are on the public payroll who express all sorts of opinions.  Firing them for expressing opinions is tantamount to censorship.  As I say above, if someone’s opinion is without merit, it shouldn’t be a big deal to challenge it point by point.    However to do that means a discussion.  It’s often far easier to pillory someone and censor them than to actually engage them by presenting facts in opposition to their argument.

              Answer me this LTE, how sustainable is this upcoming war against Iran if effectively China has to finance it while they oppose the action?

              • LTE

                There is no requirement to have Richards on the public payroll. Millions express their opinion without getting any taxpayer money. I’d rather the salary paid to Richards be used for a more worthwhile purpose.
                From my point of view, Richards opinion is disconnected from reality. Would you keep a surgeon on a hospital payroll if he demonstrates an inability to distinguish between illusion and reality?  The taxpayer does not owe Richards an easy living. Let Richards go rent a hall and give his lectures to people willing to pay out of their own pocket to listen to them.

                Unless we intend to fight a real war in Iran, there is no point starting anything with them. We spent 10 years chasing our tail in Iraq and Afghanistan, we simply can not afford to do Chase Our Tail III.

                For the record, I did not want the US to go into Iraq and I was cool about going into Afghanistan (knowing we wouldn’t fight a real war, but do another self defeating pr stunt called hearts and minds).

    • Something told me you wouldn’t agree with him LTE. But I’m curious about the cliches you see.

      Seems to me that Richards is suggesting that we’re not the force for good in the world that we claim to be and that the reasons for war aren’t as what they’re frequently claimed to be.

      From: Disqus
      To: AACLARIONCALL@yahoo.com
      Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1:39 PM
      Subject: [theafricanamericanclarioncall] Re: Dr. Sam Richards: A Radical Experiment in Empathy

      Disqus generic email template

  • Anonymous

    “For this reason alone, I can not vote for Obama and I certainly can’t vote Romney. So, I’ll be sitting this one out. ”

    I commiserate with your position, but I guess I’m prepared to accept incremental steps to a “more perfect Union.”

    Here’s what I know: The courts represent the center of power in this country, from the federal appeal courts, all the way to the Supreme Courts.  The courts are more powerful than the legislative and executive branches of government combined, whether at the state or the federal levels.

    Remember: Many still believe that the presidential election between candidates, Bush and Gore, was decided by this body, as a result of their controversial ruling, and from a court heavily tilted to the Right.

    Understanding the power of the courts,  a few of the Republican presidential candidates are striking out against what they term, “activist judges,” although we both know that it’s not conservative judges against whom they’re railing, but liberal ones.

    The party that  controls the courts runs the country. 

    Republicans know this, which is why they’ve held up many of Obama’s appointments to fill federal appeal courts judgeships (refusing to confirm many of them). Many of this nation’s critical decisions are made here (at the appeal level), and not in the Supreme Court which doesn’t  hear the volume of cases that federal appeal courts hear. 

    Many of Ronald Reagan’s appeal-court appointees are still on the bench. And although he’s now dead, and has been for several years, he’s still shaping, through these appointees, social, economic, and political polices.

    Without a Democrat president, and a Democrat congress, this critical decision of who peoples our federal courts, devolves to Republicans, who will gladly step up and appoint judges whose impact will live on long after they’ve passed away.

    “If it [a government] abuses the rights of others abroad, it will do the same thing here.”  

    It has and it will: The Occupy Wall Street protesters can attest to that. We will see more suppression of this movement the larger it grows, the wider it spreads, and the greater its impact.

    What this government has done in the past to squash dissent, it can certainly do again.

    What I learned from the video: Without empathy, people (and governments) can justify all kind of behavior, sanction all kind of actions, and do so from a position of self-righteous oblivion to the suffering of others.

    If there’s a group in our society that’s bereft of “empathy,” it’s Republicans. Republicans cheered wildly when told that Perry had executed 234 death-row inmates http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/us-politics/8749327/Rick-Perrys-execution-record-greeted-by-wild-applause-from-Republicans.html, yelled from the audience “Yes,” to the question of whether a hypothetical person without insurance should be allowed to die when facing a catastrophic injury http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/09/tea-party-audience-cheers-letting-the-uninsured-die/, and booed an Iraqi soldier, when he asked the question to Rick Santorum, “Do you plan to circumvent the progress that has been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?” http://www.towleroad.com/2011/09/iraqsoldier.html

    Republicans have shown themselves to be hard: Hardheaded. Hardhearted. Hard-assed. Hard-nosed. Hardboiled. Hardcore.

    Anything that smacks of “feel goodness” is met with disdain, an utter contempt, and a hardened resistance, as though to show “empathy” is, somehow, to show weakness, and to capitulate to the enemy (never compromise), whether the enemy is domestic or foreign.

    Not only is this nation in economic decline, it’s in spiritual decline. Of the two, the spiritual decline is doing the most damage, and is the cause of the other.

    • LTE

      “Republicans have shown themselves to be hard: Hardheaded. Hardhearted. Hard-assed. Hard-nosed. Hardboiled. Hardcore.”.
      And the Democrats? Race baiters, class warfarists, welfare pimps and sexual degenerates. Aren’t they the blue print for a brighter future?
      The courts were never intended to have the power they do and are a sure fire way to introduce a dictatorship to this country. The Republicans are right and I think judges should be removed from the benches far more often than they are now.
      We can start with the judges that found Obamacare constitutional.

    • BD,

      Thanks for this post.   I just wanted to briefly acknowledge it.  I’ve been out of pocket, but will respond later today to the points you raise here.

    • >>>Without a Democrat president, and a Democrat congress, this critical decision of who peoples our federal courts, devolves to Republicans, who will gladly step up and appoint judges whose impact will live on long after they’ve passed away.<<<

      You raise a good point here my friend and the judges have certainly been "activist", but not in the manner generally described by conservatives in accusing judges of being too liberal; a case in point being Citizens United.   I wanted to respond to this thoughtfully, lay out my position and explain why it is impossible for me to vote for Obama under any circumstances now.  I will either make a protest vote for a candidate outside of the two
      parties or not participate.

      My faith in the political process has been under assault since Gore v Bush.  I wasn't crazy about Gore per se, but the process through which the election was handed to Bush  was in many ways  a harbinger of things to come.   From my perspective, there’s not much in the
      way of elections any longer.  It’s more like selections with the people in the position of having their noses pressed up against the window looking in.   The process has been so corrupted and removed away from the people such that the process really no longer belongs to us.  I not so sure that it ever did and perhaps it’s the illusion that it did that’s been shattered.   I’ve come to believe the two party system has failed us and that both are corrupt. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t some individual democrats, or even republicans for that matter, who aren’t genuinely looking to work in the interests on the people, but unfortunately, they’re not sitting in the positions of power.   From what I can see, the system lacks legitimacy and I don’t wish to lend any legitimacy by participating with my vote until such time that there’s something and someone to actually to vote for.  For that to occur there’ll need to be a critical mass of people to overcome the oligarchs that currently control everything.  That’s not going to happen in the near term and I’m not so sure that fighting to control national politics should take precedence over exerting influence over one’s  local situation.  There are a number of decisions that people can make locally that will empower them and sometimes the focus on a national system that’s been purchased lock, stock and barrel detracts from that.

      Many people draw a line of demarcation between foreign and domestic policies and see them as separate issues.  I see them as different sides of the same coin. The coin here is an economic system that’s based on exploitation.  Because of that, the domestic policies and foreign policies will ultimately mirror each other.  Actually, I think that’s the case now and many of the things that have been done abroad to support the system are now
      being done here.

      In such a system, every supporting system (legal, educational, scientific and etc.) is compromised and appropriated to support the dominant system.  To my way of
      thinking, this is the main reason why our rights are under assault.   This is also the reason why the regulatory apparatus has been dismantled.  The economic system needs this to occur to be viable for the oligarchs and both democratic and republican administrations have overseen this.  So, I find it very hard to take solace that we’ll be protected under democratic administrations as they’re either part of the game or will become so compromised that they’ll be forced into it, even if that’s not what they set out to do.

      Obama has continued many of the same foreign policies as his predecessors and I just find this highly objectionable.  There is an on-going war with Iran even though he’s well aware of the sordid history of our involvement with that nation beginning with the overthrow of a democratically elected government in the 1950’s and the installation of the Shah of Iran.  This was done to get an oil concession and the Shah ruled with an iron hand squashing dissidents.  This led to his overthrow and the hostage crisis that killed the Carter Presidency.     All of this was followed by the Reagan administration’s Iran Contra scandal which involved in plying weapons to Iran in its war with Iraq while it used the proceeds to support regime change in Nicaragua. The war between Iraq and Iran was encouraged to destroy them both, but that didn’t happen, so we take down Iraq and prepare to take down Iran in the next few months.  Either directly or through surrogates, we’ve been conducting cyber warfare, assassinations, sabotage and espionage over the past year.  This is occurring under Obama’s watch and it is not being challenged.  In my view, it should be challenged aggressively.

      Our tradecraft abroad requires that rightwing politicians be in place in many of these countries along with the laws that support that.  We install them, train them and make sure they suppress any democratic urges the people may have.  True democracy is a threat of the first order mainly because it’s a drag on profits. It’s much easier to share the spoils with a small group of corrupt politicians who are agreeable to suppressing popular aspirations than it is to share the wealth to address the broader needs of society.  A study of the regimes in the middle east that we support and some of our past activities in Latin America confirm this set up.  Is there any wonder why we seem to have a similar system here now with a very skewed wealth distribution and politicians, even democrats, trying to out  do one another heading to the “right”?  The tradecraft honed abroad has been implemented here and that includes not only the wholesale purchase of the political class, but the raiding of public assets through privatization initiatives in the same manner that the oligarchs have done abroad through the IMF’s structural adjustment programs and other mechanisms.   And as I’ve mentioned above, the erosion and suspension of civil liberties is very much a part of this tradecraft and that’s being implemented here as well.

      So the foreign policies we as a nation pursue are absolutely huge for me as they’re inextricably linked to what ultimately will become domestic policy and to the extent that we seek to reign in the excesses that are exercised against others abroad, we save ourselves from the very same fate.  It’s huge for me and at this point, I can’t vote for anyone who promotes policies like the ones we’re currently pursuing.  These war- like policies aren’t limited to the middle east either as there’s a fair amount of interference being directed towards China , Russia and others as well. There are some who believe (and with good reason) that our policy toward Iran is really designed to hit at China and Russia as well mainly by pre-empting any relationship with Iran. This is about that nation’s resources and has absolutely nothing to do with supposed development of nuclear weapons.

      There is no one standing in the gap for the people.  I had hoped that Obama would do that and my expectation wasn’t that he’d succeed 100% in doing so, but he’s not attempted.  He, like most politicians, is concerned about the next election and he also appears to have been either purchased or compromised.  It really doesn’t matter which, as the result is the same.  And as such, there’s not much he will be willing to do or even can do outside of what the 1% wants.   He and Romney will actually be vying for the support of that 1% and that’s why no matter what, there’s no real choice in November.

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