Friday, November 16, 2012

Time to stop...

Seems that some people are a bit upset at the outcome of the recent Presidential election. Many of those who are upset call themselves "patriots" and "proud Americans" and say they admire our nation's founding fathers. Many of them are also signing petitions in favor of their states seceding from the United States of America. If you are one of those people this post is for you.

You need to stop. I don't mean that you should stop signing crazy petitions because you have the right to do such ignorant things under the 1st amendment of our constitution. No, you need to stop calling yourselves patriots or a proud Americans and you need to stop saying that you admire our founding fathers when it is obvious that you have no respect for their ideals at all.

You see our founding fathers wrote the constitution that lays out the law for how a president is elected. In the recent election we saw the hopes and dreams of our founding fathers come to life. Our country peacefully decided who our next president would be. We made our founding fathers proud by voting, something most people, and even many in the US, couldn't do at the time the constitution was written. We voted for candidates after listening to them discuss how they would deal with the issues facing our country. We weren't coerced into voting one way or the other by government henchmen or by corporate funds. We voted for the candidate that we thought would do the best job. Now you are saying that by following the dreams of our founding fathers that our nation has been destroyed. You are claiming that people being free and exercising that freedom by voting is a terrible thing because you don't like who won. Well tough. In a democracy you don't always get what you want, you have been telling people that for years and when it finally happens to you we get called cheaters and you want to take your ball and go home.

Except you don't want to go home, you want to leave our country and start your own. How can you love America when you want to leave it when things don't go your way? How can you be a patriot when you want to tear our country apart? How can you be an admirer of the people who founded our nation when you don't want freedom for all but only for a few (namely yourselves)?

I don't really care what you do, but you need to stop calling yourselves "Americans" as that is a term that reflects much more than geography. When you try and break up our country you stop being an American and become an anti-American, there is no other way to look at it.

By the way, if you are an elected official and you are not condemning this idiocy in the strongest terms possible then you are aiding and abetting these treasonous crack pots and you are no better than they are and you should relinquish the term "American" as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why you should write me in...

Tennesseans are not faced with a choice in the US Senate election. Bob Corker will win, there is no doubt about it. Corker's Democratic challenger, who the Tennessee Democratic Party doesn't even support, Mark Clayton can't win and I doubt there are many people who would want him to represent them in the Senate. So how should you respond to this lack of choice? By writing my name, Ernest George Oeser IV, in on your ballot. It is easy to do and there are good reasons for doing so.

If you, like me, believe that the idea of "limited government" should include government's influence over our bodies and personal relationships as much as government's influence over our wallets, then say so by voting for me. If you believe that we can fix our economy by looking at how we have fixed our economy in the past, by spurring demand, instead of our representatives simply acting based on ideology and political self interest then vote for me. If you think we should "take our country back" to a time when compromise wasn't a dirty word in politics and our government could actually get things done, then vote for me. If you are more of a pragmatist than strictly a liberal or a conservative, then vote for me.

I can't win this election, plain and simple. But we can all use our votes to make a statement to our elected officials. Things aren't working and we demand that they change the way they are doing things. I can't change things, but your vote can help to get the change we need started.

So write my name in, Ernest George Oeser IV, ask your friends and family to do so as well, lets use our votes in the Tennessee US Senate race to send a loud and clear message. Our elected officials need to work for us, not for themselves.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

If you are in Tennessee...

So election day is quickly approaching and voters in Tennessee, at least Tennessee voters who normally vote for democratic candidates, have an odd problem to deal with. You see the Tennessee Democratic Party (TNDP) apparently weren't too concerned with finding a good candidate to challenge Bob Corker for his seat in the US Senate. Who can blame them, a democrat beating Corker is almost unthinkable. But their lack of concern has caused a major problem. You see the candidate who won the democratic primary for Corker's seat was a man named Mark Clayton who is the vice-president of a group called The Public Advocate of the United States. This group has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their anti-gay and anti-immigrant stances. They also seem to be quite fond of completely irrational conspiracy theories but none of that stopped them from getting their vice-president voted in as the democratic candidate for the US Senate in Tennessee. After realizing the horrible set of events that had resulted from their neglect the TNDP quickly disavowed Clayton and called for voters to vote for anyone but him. So this leaves democratic voters in Tennessee a few choices as to what to do when they head to the polls.
1. Vote for Bob Corker. I know he is a republican, but he isn't the worst republican out there and this is the most obvious course of action.
2. Vote for a third party candidate. This choice will probably hold a lot of appeal for many people, but be very careful and make sure you do your research. That 3rd party candidate you know nothing about could be as crazy as Clayton.
3. Don't vote. I don't mean don't vote at all, just skip the senatorial election and move on. This is probably the easiest course of action, but if you were into taking the easy way out you wouldn't be a liberal living in Tennessee.
or there is always option 4...
4. Vote for me.
So here's the deal. The TNDP is suggesting that voters write in a candidate in the senatorial election and if you are going to follow their suggestion you might as well write my name in. Why would you write in Ernest George Oeser IV on your ballot? Because if enough people do, and it might not take a lot to be "enough" it could have some pretty powerful consequences. Let's face facts, I have zero chances of winning, but if I get enough votes the media will start sniffing around to find out who I am. If you are reading this blog there is a good chance you like what I have been saying and so it couldn't be a bad thing for more people to read it. Secondly if an openly gay man, like myself, were to get enough votes in a statewide election in Tennessee it would certainly cause a lot of consternation for right wing evangelicals in this state and seeing them in a state of consternation is always good for a laugh or two. Thirdly it would show that the people in this state are not all cookie cutter conservatives. Many of us actually care about, not only the middle class, but also the poor. It would show that we don't believe in bigotry aimed at any group and that issues like health care and education are important to us. It would show that we are sick and tired of not being effectively represented in our own state and that if the TNDP can't help us that we are willing to start working on our own behalf's. So, my fellow Tennesseans, when you go to the polls don't vote for Corker and certainly don't vote for Clayton. No, vote for change, very indirect change, vote for me, Ernest George Oeser IV, cause I have no chance of winning. Don't forget to share this with your friends, I want to come in 2nd place!

Monday, July 16, 2012

George Romney and birthers

Mitt Romney's presidential bid must be quite a problem for those who claim President Obama's presidency isn't legitimate because of their false belief that Obama was born in Kenya. Why? Because of Mitt Romney's father, George Romney.

You see George Romney ran for the office of president of the United States in 1968 and George Romney was not born in the United States. There is no debate about George Romney's birthplace, it is well known and documented that George Romney was born in Mexico. George Romney's father had fled the US in 1986 with his three wives to escape US anti-polygamy laws. George Romney was born in 1907 in Mexico, which according to the birthers should have disqualified him from running for president. There is one problem though, Romney's parents had never renounced their US citizenship which meant that George Romney, even though he wasn't born in the US was a US citizen from birth. The US Constitution specifies that a president must be a "natural born citizen" but doesn't define exactly what that phrase means. Does it mean that you have to be born in the United States? Until the passage of the 14th amendment in 1868 being born in the US did not automatically grant someone citizenship and we shouldn't forget that George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and William Henry Harrison weren't born in the US as the United States didn't exist at the time of their births. Or maybe "natural born citizen" means that someone has to be a citizen at the time of their birth? George Romney, even though he was born in Mexico, was a US citizen at the time of his birth because of the citizenship of his parents and so at the time of his presidential run most constitutional law experts and the Congressional Research Service agreed that Romney was eligible to be president. John McCain's presidential eligibility was also not much of an issue even though he was born in Panama and born at a time when none of Panama was considered US territory. So it sounds like most constitutional experts, and most of the Republican party feel that being a "natural born citizen" means you were born a US citizen, not that you were born in the US.

So how does this relate to the birther's argument that President Obama isn't a legitimate president because they claim, falsely, he was born in Kenya? There is no dispute about who Barack Obama's parents are, there is also no dispute that Obama's mother was a US citizen. Guess what, if one of your parents is a US citizen then you are granted US citizenship, no matter where you are born. So Barack Obama was born a US citizen no matter where he was born, and if that is enough for George Romney, and John McCain then it is enough for President Obama.

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, there is no real evidence pointing to any other birthplace for the President. But even if he had been born in Kenya, or on the moon, it wouldn't matter. He was a US citizen from birth and therefor a natural born citizen. Congratulations birthers, you now have time to worry about some of the real issues effecting our country.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mitt Romney and his limited knowledge of how businesses run.

Voters who say they will vote for Mitt Romney seem to fall into one of two groups when asked why they support Romney. The first group say they will vote for Romney because of his business experience, the other group plans to vote for Romney simply because he isn't Obama. The second group can't be accused of fooling themselves, Mitt Romney is not Barack Obama, the first group, however, is basing their support on some pretty shaky ground.

Last week the US Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act and in no time at all Mitt Romney issued a response. In this response he made a very interesting statement.

Obamacare also means that for up to 20 million Americans, they will lose the insurance they currently have, the insurance that they like and they want to keep.

From my knowledge of the Affordable Care Act I couldn't quite understand how Romney arrived at this claim, so I started looking into it. First I started off with looking into the history of health insurance in the United States.

During World War II there was a severe shortage of labor in the United States. The work force at the time was primarily male, by a large margin, and with so many of our men overseas fighting the competition for employees was pretty hot. Businesses started looking for new ways to attract and retain good employees and one of the methods they started to use on a large scale was to provide health insurance to their employees. They weren't forced by law to provide insurance, instead it was something that they did voluntarily as they saw the competitive benefits outweighing the monetary costs.

As time went on the war ended and the labor crunch eased but companies continued to provide health insurance as they still saw the cost of providing insurance as being more than returned by the gains they received from making sure their employees could see a doctor when they needed to. Sure, a few companies were contractually obligated to provide health benefits because of agreements made with unions, but as unions waned in America employer provided health care remained reasonably steady.

When the Affordable Care Act, i.e. Obamacare, was being debated and after it passed we were warned that it would cause people to lose the health care insurance they have enjoyed for years. Why? Because employers would be penalized for not providing health insurance but the penalty would be less costly than the insurance plans and therefor businesses would simply drop their health care plans and pay the fines so they could save money. This would be pretty scary stuff except that it simply isn't true.

If you look back a couple of paragraphs you will be able to read, once again, why employers are the most common path to health insurance in the United States. If you read carefully you will see that businesses aren't required to provide insurance, instead they do so because they believe the benefits outweigh the costs of providing insurance. A legal requirement for businesses to provide insurance won't change that cost / benefit assessment, in fact it reinforces it.

After businesses are required to provide health care or pay a fine a business could decide to drop its health care plan and pay the fine which could possibly save them money. Of course up to this point businesses have not been dropping their health care plans left and right even though if they did now they could save 100% of the money they were putting into health care. After the fines are in place they will only be able to save a percentage of the money they were putting into health care since the rest of the money would have to pay for the fines. Sure, after the fines are implemented a business might save some money, but they could save more now. So if saving a bit of cash is why a company would stop providing its employees with health insurance why aren't they dropping their plans now?

The answer to that question is very simple. Companies continue to provide health benefits because it helps them to compete for and retain better employees. After the requirement to provide health insurance goes into effect the greatest likelihood is that more companies will offer health insurance, not less, as most businesses do follow the laws that apply to them. This of course means that eliminating employee health plans would create greater competitive costs after the employer mandate goes into effect than it did before as an employer without a health plan would look like an even worse choice to a job seeker than it had before. This is why employers haven't been dropping health care plans in large numbers and why they won't in the future. It would make bad business sense to do so, especially after the savings to the business are reduced while the costs increase. No sensible business person would ever do this, but apparently Mitt Romney thinks they would.

Mitt Romney is out of touch, not just with Americans but with American businesses as well. So obviously Mitt really isn't like President Obama, because it looks like President Obama actually understands how business works. Maybe Mitt has just forgot about the way things function in the business world. After all he implemented a health plan in Massachusetts just like Obamacare. So to be kind maybe Romney's problem isn't ignorance, maybe it is just crippling forgetfulness.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The US Supreme Court has ruled... now what?

With the US Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Health Care act many things will be changing in our country and I wanted to make you aware of a few of them.

The implementation of this socialist plot (which has private insurance companies covering health care costs just as they have been doing and goes as far as mandating that Americans pay money to private companies) to turn America into a Soviet style communist country will mean that you have to get up earlier each day so that you have time to stand in line for bread. The TV show America's Got Talent will be replaced with government produced indoctrination programs. Work camps for those not participating in the health care program will be built in Montana and Idaho. You will be required by law to hang a photo of Barack Obama on your dining room wall.

Of course the US is actually not about to turn into a version of the 1980's Soviet Union, but I figure that Rush Limbaugh will be claiming that it is within the next few days and so I wanted to try and beat him to it. Yay! I scooped Limbaugh!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The bogeyman, haven't you outgrown this by now?

Today my local newspaper included an editorial about Nashville's transition to a single city/county, metro style government. To people in Nashville today it is just accepted as the way things are and, overall, it works pretty well. Fifty years ago it was hotly debated and created a fair amount of fear and animosity.

Opponents of the change tried to use a tactic to sway opinion against the change that is still in use today, the bogeyman. They compared the change in Nashville's government to something that filled two criteria, it had to be 1. widely hated and 2. something that very few people had any real understanding or knowledge of. This allowed the comparison to sound valid and frightening no matter how ridiculous it was. So the opponents of combining Nashville and Davidson County compared the new government to communism. Of course this form of government had nothing to do with Karl Marx or Vladimir Lennin, but saying that it was the same thing made people fear it because the only thing they knew about communism is that it was bad and if the new form of government was the same thing it had to be bad as well.

Today the insult isn't "communism" (unless you are Republican Congressman Adam West who claimed personal knowledge of many communists in the House of Representatives), no, today the insult is "socialism".

The word "socialism" is bandied about by Republicans like a 4 year old with a new toy on Christmas morning. They love this word and they love using it even though most seem to have no understanding of what it means. The ones that do know what it means still use it in completely incorrect ways as they know the value of the fear the word inspires is much greater than the value of the word itself. I wish they feared Americans actually researching what the word means so that they could see that it is just another economic system that can be used and mis-used just as capitalism can. There is nothing inherently evil about socialism and it is, in some ways, even more effective, dare I say better, than capitalism. Of course Republicans don't want you to understand this, they want to keep you frightened and afraid. They want to be able to treat you like a little child that will fall for anything, that is where their power lies, not in their ideas or concepts, but in their ability to inspire fear in those too lazy to do their own research. Don't fear the bogeyman, fear those who use him to control you.

Here's the article.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to fix our economy in two easy steps

Our economy sucks right now. We all know it. Unemployment is too high, consumer demand and confidence are too low, our economy is getting better but at about the same speed glaciers move through a mountain valley. We want things to get better faster but no one seems to know how to make that happen. Well actually lots of people know how to make that happen. We know exactly how to decrease unemployment and increase demand. We have done it many times in the past and it has worked exceptionally well. So why aren't we doing it now? Because the Republicans want us to suffer because they think it will help them win elections.

I am assuming that most of the people reading this blog have heard of Keynesian economics. But if you haven't or don't understand what it means let me sum it up for you. When our economy faces a drop in demand businesses sell fewer products, selling fewer products means then need to make fewer products and so they lay off employees that they don't need. People that are laid off have less money to spend and so they spend less money which further reduces demand and causes our economy to falter. The way out of this downward spiral is to increase demand. To increase demand you have to get money into the hands of consumers. Private businesses could do this by hiring more people but they won't because with less demand for their products it would make no sense for them to bring on additional employees. So it is up to the government to put extra money into the economy with spending programs. This does not mean that the government should just hand out cash, no, it means it should spend lots of money on things like infrastructure (Eisenhower and Obama), it should spend vast sums of money on advancing our national defense (Reagan), heck, even spending huge sums of cash on an unnecessary war (Bush) will get the economy going by introducing massive sums of cash into our economy. Cutting government spending has the opposite effect, it takes money out of the economy, creates higher unemployment, pushes demand down, and during bad economic times makes things much worse. The problem is that presidents like Reagan and Bush and Obama have stimulated the economy with deficit spending. Reagan and Bush seemed to see no problem in spending like crazy on the backs of future generations. Obama would like to pay for his spending by Republicans are so enamored with running up huge debts that they won't let him pay for his spending in the only way reasonable, by increasing taxes. So the Republicans have suddenly found "fiscal" responsibility and refuse to let our government do the spending it needs to while they also refuse to let the government raise taxes from their ridiculously low levels to help pay off our debt. Most 5 year olds in a candy store with a credit card would be more fiscally responsible than today's Republicans but they keep claiming they know how to fix our economy while hoping that all of us are stupid enough to believe their outrageous, self serving lies.

So how do we fix things? Easy, raise taxes on the wealthy so that they are paying 40 to 45% (still very low rates historically) into income taxes. Make sure that this covers all of their income with no lower rates for investment income. Take half of this new tax revenue and put it into spending on roads, schools, the electric grid, defense technologies, and all of the other things that out nation really needs. This will create jobs and consumer demand which is the only thing that can fix our economy. Take the other half and put it towards reducing the deficit. We won't spend a dime that we don't have and we will be reducing our deficit at the same time. Easy as pie. That is of course unless you are a Republican who thinks a bad economy increases your chances for re-election.

So there you have it, 2 steps to a brighter economy, raise taxes and then spend the money. Sadly you probably won't get to see this easily obtainable brighter future as it seems the Republicans are thrilled with having a terrible economy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A new day for the Southern Baptists?

Last Sunday I worshiped at a Southern Baptist church pastored by a friend of mine in a rural South Georgia town. While the church is a Southern Baptist church it should be noted that my friend doesn't really consider himself a Southern Baptist. This may not be the most common situation in the world, but I feel that it may be more common than one would expect. I know many people who were raised in the Southern Baptist church and still attend Southern Baptist churches on the rare occasions that they step through the doors of a church for something besides a wedding. Many of these individuals have told me that they have stopped going to church regularly because, while they have a great appreciation for the teachings of Jesus Christ they find very little of his teachings apparent in many churches today. It looks like the Southern Baptists have taken note of the feelings of many of their irregular or former members. Sort of.

This week in New Orleans the Southern Baptist Convention elected its first African American president. Many hope that this will help potential church members forget about the SBC's past connection to slavery and bigotry against African Americans. The SBC also voted to adopt a new, optional, name for their organization. SBC members can now refer to themselves as "Great Commission Baptists". Why the name change? It seems that the SBC figured out that many people have a very negative concept of what the SBC stands for. Anti-gay, not supporters of full equality for women, and weak on issues of race. They realized that it might be a good idea to do a bit of "re-branding" and so just like Phillip Morris changed its name to Altria without changing the fact that it makes an addictive, cancer causing product, the SBC is changing its name without changing any of its practices that have driven so many away. Do they really think that we will be fooled by this poorly constructed illusion? Personally it all seems a bit dishonest to me, and I would hope that a major Christian denomination would want to project honesty instead of bad marketing.

Some of you might be thinking that it's possible that the Southern Baptist Convention really has changed, that this new name is about something more than sleazy marketing. Well I leave you with one piece of information. This week the SBC elected its first African American president and voted to allow an optional new name be used to describe it. It also adopted a resolution stating that while the LGBT community faces "unique struggles" it should not be protected from discrimination including being barred from exercising their right to marry the person they love. The Great Commission Baptists, still favoring discrimination and trying to insert their personal will into the Bible. Jesus commanded that we should love one another, any exceptions to this were created by men, not by God. Seems like the SBC is still siding with man over God.

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's Official!

It's official! President Obama released the above video today along with an official proclamation recognizing June as LGBT Pride Month!


In my opinion the pride celebrations held every year around the country are some of the most important efforts that the LGBT community puts forth in our effort to end our second class citizenship. In many ares this is the only time that we are really visible to the straight community. Sure, pride celebrations are just big parties, but they are big, visible, parties where we can be seen by people who would rather not acknowledge our existence. The diversity of our community, the fact that most of us are just normal people, the fact that many of us have kids, are elderly, are in long term loving relationships, all of these things become visible and make it harder for the people who want to hold on to liberty only for themselves to justify their positions. Pride celebrations are important.

So head out to a pride festival, take your partner or your husband or your wife. Take your straight friends. Take members of your families. Take your pastor or your boss, mostly take pride in who you are and that by being there, by having a good time, by being out you are changing things. We have a lot to be proud of this June and every month that follows.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

We have to do better.

So things have been a bit crazy for me as of late. I have been looking for more permanent employment and now have multiple offers to choose from. A wonderful opportunity has been offered to my husband which will have a major impact on our lives. Last night I was robbed at gunpoint. Yes things have been crazy.

I am pretty certain that anyone reading this is now focusing your interest on the robbery so that's what I will discuss in this post.

I was on my way to one of my favorite bars in town. It is a divey gay bar, nothing like the flashy, techno music filled gay bars you see on TV that are populated with buff, shirtless, men. It isn't in the best part of town, but I have never felt unsafe there, heck I don't live in the best part of town and I feel safe in my own neighborhood so there is no reason I would feel unsafe at this bar. So I pull into the parking lot while talking to my husband on my cell phone. I see that my normal parking space directly in front of the building is occupied and so I take a parking spot under a street light next to the road. I am sitting in my car finishing up my conversation when I hear loud voices screaming for me to open the door and fists pounding on my driver side window. Having people approach you asking for money or a cigarette is not uncommon at this bar so I wasn't too worried and I certainly wasn't going to open the door. Then I saw the gun.

Standing outside my car were two kids, literally they were maybe 15 years old, they were so young that I took a quick second glance at the gun to make sure it didn't have an orange tip on the barrel indicating it was a toy. Sadly it was the real thing and so I decided the best thing I could do was follow their instructions and hope for the best. They screamed for me to give them my money. I took out my wallet which one of them quickly grabbed and emptied of the small amount of cash in it before tossing it to the ground. I was then told to empty my pockets which I did while saying that I only had a cigarette lighter, apparently this was something else they were in need of since they took that as well. The next thing I heard was "I need that too" as my cell phone, still connected to my husband's phone, was ripped out of my hand. Then as quickly as it started it was over with the two kids running off into the distance.

I grabbed my wallet, thankfully they had only grabbed my cash and not my credit cards or driver's license, walked into the bar and asked the bar tender to call the police. Within minutes the bar's parking lot took on the appearance of a police station during a shift change as it was filled with patrol cars, unmarked cars driven by detectives, and even two cars from the K-9 unit. They took down a considerable amount of information, walked the dogs around the area, took finger prints from my car, spoke with the bar tender and then left. As I tried to calm down I called my husband back to let him know I was OK and to try and calm him down as well. I then went into the bar where my friends consoled me, bought me drinks, and offered me money.

I am really lucky. I lost some cash and a cell phone (although I really miss that phone after spending a day with my old cell phone) but I was alive and reminded that a lot of people care very much for me and that God is looking out for me. Yes, I am very lucky. I wish I could say the same for the two young men who robbed me.

I do hope that the police are able to catch my assailants, if they get away with this it will simply reinforce their behavior. But I can't help thinking about what led them to this point. I would say that neither of my attackers were over the age of 15 and while they ultimately bear the responsibility for their actions we can't understand how they got to the point of thinking that armed robbery is acceptable or unavoidable without understanding that our society, our economy, our education system, our family structures, our churches, and all of the rest of us have failed these kids. If they are at this point this early in their lives what does the future hold for them? If they are caught what is the chance that they will find rehabilitation? What are the chances that will simply learn to be more effective criminals? Some may say that is simply luck that I was born into a white, middle class, suburban environment and bad luck caused my robbers to be born into completely different circumstances. Luck is one way of describing it, I believe recognizing it as injustice is more accurate.

If you look around the world you will see that the places with the highest poverty levels and the areas with the highest levels of income inequality are the areas with the highest crime rates. We have made the conscious decision that in America we are OK with economic injustices as long as we don't feel we are personally effected by them or as long as we can hold onto our fantasies of over coming them. This means that we have decided that we are also OK with people suffering because of no fault of their own. We are OK with people being trapped in addiction and not having the resources to extract themselves from their chemical prisons. We are OK with people dying from easily treated illnesses because they can't afford the care that they need. Because we are OK with all of these thing we must realize that we are also OK with the property and violent crimes they spawn. We can, to a great extent, solve our nation's crime problem, but we don't want to. The police, no matter how hard they work, can really only respond to crimes once they are committed, they are almost completely unable to prevent crimes. We, as a society, can prevent crimes but apparently we don't want to. We are satisfied to just complain about crime without doing anything about it and to see the lives of people like the two kids who robbed me ruined. We are the land of the incarcerated and the home of the afraid. We have to do better.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Free market insanity

I have been in a discussion today with someone who believes the biggest problem with America's health care system is too much government regulation. This person claims that before the government got heavily involved in the health care market health care was much more affordable. I have to say that he is correct. In the 1800's health care, along with pretty much everything else, was cheaper. The question is was it any good?

In the 1800's the health care industry wasn't run by scientists or doctors or even accountants. No, in the 1800's our more free market health care system was run by traveling snake oil salesmen who would pour whatever they could find into a bottle, put a label on it making all sorts of claims for what it could do, and then sell it without any concern about who it might hurt. Many people became addicted to cocaine and morphine which were sold freely as cure-alls. People were lucky if they lived past their 40's. Completely unsubstantiated and ineffective treatments gained great popularity, why? Because the market was free enough to allow all of this to happen.

I will freely admit that it is possible to over regulate markets, but over regulation is a lesser evil than under regulation. Sparse or non-existent regulations allowed markets to give us things like the 1929 stock market crash, credit default swap bubbles, housing bubbles, monopolies, baby cribs that allow children to become injured. A free market gave us Justin Beiber and Milli Vanilli.

Markets don't operate in our best interests. Removing regulations will not solve all of our problems. A free market doesn't lift us up, it reduces us all to the lowest common denominator because that is where the greatest profits are found. Regulations spur innovation faster than the market can. If the government tells you that you can't do something that has made you a lot of money you will find a way to change what you are doing much faster than you would if you were only motivated by market forces.

Market forces can provide us with great things, they can also be very destructive. If we ignore the bad and only see the good we will be destroyed by the negative impacts of relying strictly on the free market. We should be striving for balance when it comes to business regulation, instead it seems our nation has shifted to striving for insanity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mitt Romney, the first speech of his new campaign

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Tonight Mitt Romney made his first speech of the general election campaign after winning the Republican primary contests in New York, Delaware,Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Yes, there are still a few states left that haven't held their primaries but Romney has, without a doubt, arrived at the point where it is safe to call him the Republican presidential nominee. So how was the speech?

Romney's speech was as interesting for what it didn't touch on as what it did. Through out the primary issues of importance to social conservatives dominated even though the economy is what most Americans say is the primary issue in this election. Rick Santorum made certain that social issues stayed at the forefront and it is no surprise that Romney, who is not seen as a strong social conservative, would choose to avoid these issues since they don't work in his favor with independent voters. It was surprising to see how little mention was made of the health care plan signed into law by President Obama that was based on the health care plan that was signed into law by Romney while he was governor of Massachusetts. This is a big issue with conservatives but a hard issue for Romney since he has to demonize his own health care plan to attack Obama's plan. My guess is that Romney is hoping that the US Supreme Court will eliminate this issue some time over the Summer. One of the most interesting things that the speech didn't touch on, as pointed out in the video clip by Rachel Maddow, is the ground in any of the states that voted. Romney chose to make his speech in New Hampshire, the same state in which he declared his candidacy in this election. It was a big signal, along with all of the "A better America begins today" signs, that this is the point in which the reset button has been pushed, the point in which the Etch-A-Sketch is shaken vigorously, and a brand new campaign begins.

I give Romney credit, it was a good speech. I believe the fact checkers will have a fun time with some of the things he said. "Those who promise to spread the wealth around only ever succeed in spreading poverty." a statement like this makes you realize that Romney is unaware that President Johnson's "War on Poverty" brought the percentage of the US population living under poverty to the lowest point it had ever been since we started keeping records about poverty levels and to a much lower level than it is today. But who cares about facts? This was a very Reaganesque speech that will have great appeal to many conservative voters as it talked about things like fairness in a way that makes sense to conservatives but that is lost on liberals. He also pushed an idea that I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago, that the Democrats are the party of survival, while the Republicans are the party of success. This doesn't mean success for everyone but unimaginable success for some. It appeals to the lottery ticket mentality of voting. Your chances of success might not be great if you vote for a Republican, but those slim chances are attached to something much more appealing than what the Democrats are offering. This concept, I believe, is a good one for winning independent voters and has served Republican candidates very well in the past. In our current economic situation I think it is a sensible tact for Romney to take.

So can the Obama team get out the message that Democrats have plans to allow a greater number of Americans to find success instead of the very few that the Republican plan will help? Can they turn Romney into a liberal who looks to have very few differences with Obama which would surely cost Romney conservative votes. Even Santorum once advised voters to choose Obama over Romney since at least we know what we will be dealing with if Obama is reelected. If the economy continues to improve and even picks up a bit more steam will any of this matter? If the economy takes a turn for the worse can Obama convince voters that Romney is thrilled that they are suffering more? Will Obama's charisma help him find victory over the Republican John Kerry? Will either candidate make a guest appearance on Glee? The next few months could turn out to be very interesting.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day, a different way of thinking

Tomorrow is Earth Day and many of us will be confronted with a tidal wave of information on how to live in more environmentally friendly ways. Take a careful look at this information and put a lot of thought into what you are seeing, reading, and hearing. Sometimes, when it comes to the environment, what seems obvious might not be completely true.

If you walk into your back yard or into a park or any other fairly "natural" area and mark of an area one acre in size. Research indicates in that acre that you could find around 425 million insects and other arthropods living in the soil and leaf litter in that one acre. 425 million! That doesn't even count the number of insects flying around in that acre. It also leaves out things like worms and single celled organisms or plants. It doesn't count any vertebrates that might be present like lizards or birds or mice. Counting only the arthropods living in the soil and on the soil we would come up with a number, in one acre, that would probably exceed the total population of humans in the United States. Think about that one acre of land and now think about the fact that the US is about 2.3 billion acres in size in total. I don't want to do that math.

The thing to take from this is that our environment is very complex. We are surrounded by living things and all of those living things affect all of the other living things around them. If you choose to live in an environmentally responsible way you have to realize that everything you do from the day you are born to the day you die will have an environmental impact and those impacts may surprise you.

So lets say you decide to start a new environmentally friendly lifestyle today. Where should you live? A rural area where you aren't surrounded by buildings but instead by mountains and trees or a large city where you might go days without seeing a tree? Some have suggested that living in a city, where you can make use of public transportation, where heating costs can be reduced since there are fewer single family dwellings and more multi-family structures, is the more environmentally sound choice. Others have found little evidence that urban dwellers create less impact. No matter which side you agree with you have to also understand that your carbon footprint isn't the only thing that has to be considered. I have done a considerable amount of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Along the vast majority of the trail you can camp anywhere that you like but it is always recommended that you camp in established camping areas. Why? Because the damage has already been done in these areas and it makes more sense to confine the damage to these areas instead of spreading it out. City living may or may not reduce your carbon footprint but it might help prevent further environmental damage in other areas. That dirty, crowded, city might be the most environmentally friendly place on Earth.

So maybe you won't change where you live, but maybe you should look at how you get around? If you bicycle or walk or take public transportation then good for you. But if like many of us you use an automobile to get around you might be thinking you can do better. Should you trade in the old mini-van on a fancy new hybrid? Probably not. Studies have shown that 12-25% of a conventional car's environmental impact occurs before the car ever makes it to the dealership where it is sold. Things like the mining of metals, the manufacturing process and the transportation of the car to the dealership are not easy on the environment. If you start looking at hybrids the numbers get even worse as you have to factor in the manufacturing of the high efficiency batteries these cars use. Your old mini-van dealt with these pre-sale environmental costs long ago and so, as long as it is in good mechanical condition, it is probably more environmentally friendly to stick with it even though it guzzles a bit of gas.

But the hybrid car commercials make it sound like they will save the Earth! Here is a newsflash for you, marketing is not science. If you go to an Earth Day celebration tomorrow pay close attention to who is sponsoring it. A respected university? Probably not. If you care about the environment look past the marketing.

There are a lot of other things that have to be considered that might seem obvious at first. Organic produce might not always be more environmentally friendly than traditionally grown fruit and vegetables, especially if it is shipped in from China or Chile. A local grower who uses an inorganic fertilizer might be the better choice. What are the environmental costs of the manufacture of solar panels? They might make sense in an area with coal powered electric plants but if your energy comes from hydroelectric production they might be the wrong choice for the environment. Everything that you buy to make things better involves something being made and in that process it can make things worse.

The best thing you can do for the environment might be to do less. Spend less, live with less, consume less. There is a huge environmental industry that wants you to think you can make things better by consuming more, for me this simply doesn't add up. The best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce your overall footprint. If you want to save the environment then save in general. I support research and the development of new products that will help keep the Earth healthier, but we have to make sure when we buy them we are actually helping the environment and not just our egos.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Less is more...

This is not just another blog post from me. No, this is a political, economic, social, and spiritual manifesto. I hope it will cause you to think and I hope it will cause you to act.

The United States is a big country, not just in terms of geography and population, the US has a big psyche. We love most things big, big cars, big houses, big careers. It is probably not a coincidence that the idea that a perfectly sized woman's breast should fit in a champagne glass came from France and not the USA. Our desire for everything bigger has also grown over time. In the 1950's the average sized home was 983 square feet. In the 2000's that average had grown to 2300 square feet. We grew to love massive SUV's, we shifted our shopping trips from small stores to "big box" retailers, restaurant food portions have increased in size and our waistlines have grown with them. We like things big in America.

It isn't that we always embrace the grandiose. No, we want our government smaller and we pay lip service to appreciating small business. Of course our government keeps growing and we make it easy to support small businesses because we classify any business with less than 500 employees as small. This means that 99.9% of the businesses in the US are small businesses, it would be hard to not support them. So why do we like most things big but not all? People on the right see big government as a threat to the bigness they want in their lives and people on the left see big business as a threat to the bigness they want in their lives. It isn't that we hate anything big, we are just afraid that the largess of the things we dislike will reduce our ability to achieve the personal largess we are seeking. These exceptions prove the rule, in America, bigger is better.

So where am I going with all of this? I want you to think about small.

Today I was driving my car around town. I drive a 2011 smart car, currently the smallest car sold in the United States. Smart cars aren't terribly common where I live and so I have a lot of people walk up to me in parking lots to ask questions about my car. Most of the people are simply curious about my car, but at some point almost all of these conversations get around to the person who stopped me saying they could never own a car that small. They think the car has to be a death trap. Even when they see the considerable amount of space inside the car they can't believe it is practical. I have literally had someone tell me while they were sitting comfortably in my car that they could never fit in it. They just can't get past the small. After a round of these questions today I started thinking about why I drive a smart car. I didn't buy the car for the gas mileage, it is a nice bonus, but there are cars on the market that get better gas mileage. I'm not a big environmentalist so the low carbon emissions weren't a factor in my buying this car either. I have just been fascinated by smart cars since they were first released in Europe in 1998, but why?

I'm an old punk. I have had the piercings and tattoos and mosh pit injuries to prove it. I guess at this point in my life I have moved from being an old punk to being more easily recognized as a contrarian. I have exceeded the age limit to call myself a rebel, yet these tendencies, thankfully, die hard. I look at all things popular and accepted with a great deal of skepticism. I appreciate people and ideals that go against the flow, a smart car fits in with my contrarianism perfectly. Plus it is just a lot of fun to drive. The question is, why is a smart car such a perfect rebel, punk, contrarian automobile in our culture when it is so easily accepted in other parts of the world? Simple, it isn't big.

Small is threatening in our culture, we want everything bigger and so anything that glorifies the diminutive is nearly sacrilegious. Our desire for the grand means Starbucks can't sell you a small coffee. Our lust for the large means that we have to have the bigger car, the bigger house, the clothing with the larger price tag, and because of all of this we wind up with greater stress, larger levels of debt, and jumbo sized deficits of free time. We idolize big to such an extent that we start off our adult lives going deep in debt so that we can attend college, quite often not so that we can learn but so that we can get a higher paying job which will allow us to live large later in life. Size, in America at least, does matter.

We have to get away from this need for big. There are many reasons to do this, it can help our environment, it can benefit our local economies, it can lead to greater freedom, but I don't care about any of that. I want to live little because it pisses people off.

I once spent a few months hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I quickly learned to send home anything in my backpack that I didn't use every single day. When you are carrying everything you own on your back as you hike up and down mountains for 8 to 12 hours a day every ounce matters. I got down to the point that I could hike for a week, carrying my clothes, shelter, food, and everything else I really needed in a very small pack with a total weight of around 20 pounds. Other hikers looked at me with jealousy in their eyes. I was living little. I would go into a town to resupply and I could see the envy on the faces of the people around me. They loved the idea of having the freedom that I had but they couldn't drop their super sized lives and embrace the small. Living simply makes people angry because they want to do the same thing but they won't allow themselves to. They are trapped by the titanic proportions of their lives.

So how about you? How big do you live? Look around and see what you could reduce, what you could get rid of, how you could change things to make your life smaller. Live smaller and you will take away the power that other individuals have over your life. Live simpler and you will have more time to live. You don't have to go without anything that you need, you only have to get rid of things that you don't need, things that own you instead of you owning them. Do it for any reason that appeals to you, but if we all did it our nation would be in much better shape, physiclly, economically, socially, spiritually. Plus after the hippies and the punks and the goths and emos and hipsters our youth needs to find a new way to rebel. This is it, this is the way, us older folks need to show them the way, so if for no other reason we should all shrink our lives for our nation's children. They are our future after all. Hopefully our future will be much more reasonably sized than our present.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A little help for my conservative friends...

Came across this interesting story today,

Allen West: I've 'Heard' 80 House Democrats Are Communist Party Members

After reading the story I realized that I needed to help out my conservative friends. You see many conservatives today are making themselves look ridiculously silly, if not utterly stupid, with their repeated mis-use of words like "socialist" and "communism". You see these words are commonly used by conservatives to describe individuals or organizations or countries that don't fit the definition of the words. Conservatives seem to think that these words mean something bad but they seem to have no idea what these words mean. So, I am writing this a service to my conservative friends so they can avoid looking like idiots and realize that they need to find new words to attack us liberals.

From Webster's dictionary;

so·cial·ism, noun
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

com·mu·nism, noun
1 a : a theory advocating elimination of private property

b : a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed

2 capitalized a : a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

b : a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production

c : a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably

Since we now know the definitions of these words we can begin to use them correctly. First off Barack Obama is not a socialist or a communist. If he was a communist he would be for the total elimination of private property and would be working towards achieving that goal. Of course he has done nothing of the sort and he himself is a fairly wealthy individual who has shown no interest in giving up his personal fortune. So is he a socialist? No, not a socialist either. You see he is not interested in having the US government take over private businesses so they will be owned AND run by the government. What about the auto company bailouts? Well here is the thing, the government didn't buy Chrysler and GM and the government did not take over the operation of either of those companies. What it did was bailout the companies and take partial ownership of the companies in exchange for the bailout so it could hold the companies accountable. In June of 2011 the government got rid of the last small portion of Chrysler that it owned and has been consistently reducing the number of shares it owns at GM, something a socialist would never do. Furthermore the government was always divorced from the day to day operations of both of these companies, something that would fly in the face of socialist ideology. Therefore, Obama can not be a socialist as he had the perfect chance to be a socialist and turned it down.

We also need to look at a few other things the government does that are considered to be "communist" or "socialist" by conservatives. Medicare, food stamps, social security. These are all "social programs" and they are called social programs because they benefit our society. They are not socialist programs however because they don't involve the government owning AND controlling the means of production for any industry.

Countries like France and Germany do have some socialist aspects to their governments. Germany is part owner of Volkswagen and they do have some control over the day to day operations of the company. That is what socialism looks like, specifically it looks like one of the largest and most successful automobile manufacturers in the world. So as you can see, socialism doesn't always fail.

I hope you will be able to use this information to correct your mis-use of words like socialist and communist. I will also take this chance to tell my liberal friends that they probably need to eliminate words like "fascist" from their political discourse vocabulary. After all, we don't want to look as stupid as the conservatives do.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sacrifice, why don't we care any more?

We used to talk about sacrifice a lot in this country. Multitudes of American men sacrificed their lives fighting for this country. During WWII many had to sacrifice their normal lives as family members went off to war and here at home gasoline and sugar and other items were rationed. After the war our country, as a whole, sacrificed a lot as we all worked together to pay off the massive debt we had built up coming out of the Great Depression and fighting the war. The people of this country knew that America was worth the sacrifice.

Yes, there was a time when we were willing to make the hard choices to do what was best for our country. When we were willing to work together, not just for the common good, but to protect those things that we, as a nation, hold sacred. That time seems to have passed.

We are still working our way out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but did those who were effected the least by this recession do anything to help those who were effected the most so that we could all benefit from a stronger economy? No. Those at the top of our economy sat by and watched their profits soar while millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes and their hope. Many at the bottom of the economic ladder lost everything, but it wasn't a sacrifice, they had no choice in the matter and sacrifice involves choice. The people at the top certainly didn't sacrifice anything and our economy faltered and stagnated as no one was willing to take the actions required to lessen the impact of the "Great Recession". No one was willing to sacrifice anything for our country.

On 9/11 our nation was brutally attacked by a group of individuals so driven by hatred that they would sacrifice their own lives to bring down America. We all looked to our president for guidance on how we, the average man and woman, should respond. What were we told? Go shopping. Our country had suffered the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor and our leadership said we should head for the malls. None of us could be bothered with any greater sacrifice than the cost of a new pair of shoes, and we kept the shoes.

We want our taxes lower while our debt is climbing. We want to cut spending, but only on the things that don't effect us personally. We want a strong military, but our own sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, shouldn't be the ones to serve. We want jobs brought back to our country, but we still want the low prices cheap, overseas labor allowed. We want it all, but we don't want to have to pay for it in any way, shape, or form.

Today is Good Friday. Christians around the world will reflect on what we see as the ultimate sacrifice, when Jesus Christ died, for us, on the cross. Jesus sacrificed his life for all of us. He died a slow and painful death so that we can have everlasting life. He suffered so that we won't have to. He paid the ultimate price for the ultimate gift to all of us. What have you sacrificed? What are you willing to sacrifice? We have benefited from living in this great country, are you willing to show your appreciation by giving back? Or are you one who simply takes, and then takes more. This is Good Friday. I want you to think about sacrifice.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Government is the problem

In his 1981 inaugural address Ronald Reagan made on of his most famous quotes;
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.
Reagan was warning America of the dangers of an uncontrolled, large, government that is looked upon by its citizens as the source of answers to the problems they face. This was, of course, a rebuff of the liberal policies that Reagan saw as a threat to our country. While I may disagree with President Reagan on the source of the governmental threat, I am beginning to see that he may have been very right in seeing government as threatening to our way of life.

In Tennessee we have experienced a bit of a revolution. Members of the far right have taken over our government and now hold the governor's office along with majorities in the state house and senate. They are now using their position of power to push through legislation that is not in any way limited by Reagan's desire for smaller, more limited government. No, they are expanding the powers of the state government, limiting the powers of county and local governments, and positioning government as the artificial head of Tennessee households.

Last year the state stepped in and passed a bill sponsored by Glen Casada, HB 0598, which removed a city or county's right to decide who should be included in anti-discrimination ordinances. This bill was directly aimed at the city of Nashville which had passed a law requiring companies that contracted with the city to have a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead of letting the people of Nashville decide what was best for their city the state moved in and told them what was best for them. Rep. Casada defended the bill by saying its intent was not to promote discrimination, but instead to make it easier for small businesses to operate in Tennessee by not forcing them to deal with a patchwork of laws that varied from city to city or county to county. Of course most small businesses operate out of a single location and would only have to work within the laws in their own city or county so it is hard to say how many, if any, small businesses actually benefit from Mr. Casada's law but to me it shows a lack of respect towards small business owners as Mr. Casada obviously doesn't think they are smart enough to deal with laws that vary slightly from one location to the next.

Mr. Casada is using this line of reasoning once again this year with a bill that would prevent a county from instituting a higher minimum wage than the state and another bill that would prevent counties and cities from establishing their own zoning regulations. Again Mr. Casada claims that these laws would help small businesses even though there is no evidence for his claims. It is easy to see, however, how large businesses and corporations, who are more likely to have operations in multiple counties and cities, would benefit from restricting local government officials from doing the job we elected them to do. These bills are nothing more than big government on the state level. Our local governments are where we, as citizens, have the most influence, where we have the greatest power and so these laws don't just muzzle our local governments, they muzzle all of us in a rather dramatic way. They are designed to help the few at the expense of the many and they represent, in a strong way, how government is the problem.

Tennessee law makers aren't happy with simply crushing the power of local governments. No, they also have their sights set on limiting our rights as individuals and as families.

Imagine, and I pray that no one will ever have to do more than imagine this situation, that a female member of your family was raped or sexually abused. Now imagine that this violation leads to a pregnancy. It should be up to the person carrying that baby and her family to decide on the best course of action. That woman should be able to rely on the traditions and experience and beliefs of her family to help her figure out the best way to deal with a terrible situation. She may decide to carry the baby to full term or she might decide to take another course of action. Either way the decision should not be one controlled or influenced by Tennessee state legislators who have never met the woman in question and know nothing of her suffering. What if a woman in your family became pregnant only to find out that carrying the baby could threaten her own life. Isn't this something that her and her husband should discuss and come to a decision on? We would expect her to consult her doctor and her parents and siblings. She might ask the advice of her friends and her pastor, we would never expect her to have to get a permission slip from her state representative though. It seems as though Tennessee state representative Mae Beavers thinks that our government should have some say so in her decision. HB 3808 would make coming to a decision in these terrible circumstance much more difficult. First it would put unnecessary restrictions on which doctors could provide abortion services and then it would institute health department reporting requirements that could make it possible, in more rural areas, to identify the women who have had to make such a hard and personal decision. If this law passes our big, over reaching, state government will take a personal. family, decision and turn it into a matter for public discussion. This is not small government, this is more than big government, this is government that is stomping on sacred traditions in our country. This is bad government. We see once again, government is the problem.

These few pieces of legislation are just the tip of the ice berg. There is a constant stream of legislation circulating through the chambers of the Tennessee State Capital that will not only limit liberty and subvert justice, but that will do so at the expense of a particular group of Tennesseans. Which group is that? The majority.

Hard work is the path to success. That is a sacred truth to most Tennesseans, but it seems that our government wants to turn that path into a toll road and hand control of that road over to a few select individuals. Now working hard, being smart, doing your best, and being a little bit lucky isn't enough for success. Success has been changed from something you strive for to something you pay for and those at the top seem to want to make success an option for as few as possible. Many worry that social programs make it to easy to not work and inspire some individuals to take more from our system than they give to it. I think the greater danger, the greater cause of avoiding the hard work needed to succeed is to see that no matter how hard you work, not matter how hard you strive, that success will always be out of your reach. We used to have a system that allowed everyone a chance to succeed, now we offer that chance to just a few. Even worse those few with the chance seem hell bent on limiting the chances of success even further. They want to change the rules mid-game to favor only them. They want us on their team, but they have no intent of letting us enjoy the victories we all work hard to achieve. Our government is helping to make this happen. The problem is government.

I can't claim to be a big fan of Ronald Reagan's, but I will happily admit when he got something right. Right now, in the state of Tennessee government is the problem, our bad government. Luckily we can fix the problem. Let's work hard to get a wider representation of views into our state government. Let's bring market principles into our political market place by encouraging competition and innovation. We need ideological competition in our government so that neither side can win. Because if one side wins, the rest of us will probably lose in many ways. Lets make government less of a problem.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Please sign my pledge

In 1986 a man by the name of Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, created a pledge for politicians to sign. This pledge states that the signer, if a member of the US Congress will;
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses;

and TWO,

oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
If the signer is a member of a state legislature the pledge states;
I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.
So, basically anyone who signs this pledge is stating that they will not raise taxes in any way, shape, or form no matter how economic conditions change, no matter what kinds of challenges face our country, no matter what may happen in the future that we can not predict and that might completely surprise us, the signers say they won't raise taxes.

Imagine someone started up a new pledge. Just like we all hate taxes, we all pretty much hate war. So signers of this new pledge agree to never use military force. If our country is attacked, no military force. If one of our allies is invaded, no military force. If our national security is threatened, no military force of any kind will be used. It would probably be a bit of a challenge to get many signers for this pledge because all of America could see what an insane restriction this would put on our government. No one wants to go to war, but we realize that sometimes we have no choice and that removing the option of military force could lead to the destruction of our country.

Guess what, taxes are pretty much just like military force. We don't like taxes, we would all like to see our tax rates reduced, but sometimes we have to use the option of tax increases to keep our nation functioning. When we were drawn into World War II our nation was faced with a great financial expense that wasn't expected by many in our country. To pay for our actions in WWII our government had to raise taxes. We, even after the tax increases to help fund the war effort, wound up with a high level of debt which required high taxes to pay off. Sometimes we have to raise taxes, it is an unfortunate but simple fact of life. Since this is so obvious it seems rather doubtful that politicians would be rushing to sign Grover Norquist's not tax increase pledge. Right?

Sadly no. Currently 41 out of 100 US senators have signed this pledge. 238 out of 435 members of the US House of Representatives have signed this pledge. People that we elected to run our country have decided that one of the major tools they can use to help fix our debt crisis, one of the major tools that they can use to fund our nation in an emergency, one of the major tools that they have to effect our nation's economy is completely off the table. How could individuals who are this stupid get elected? Easy, we, the American people, voted for them.

Pledging to not raise taxes is a great way to pander to voters. No one wants to see their taxes go up and so it makes sense for a politician to say that he or she will never raise taxes. Yes, from a strictly political standpoint it makes sense, but for our country it makes no sense. Politicians should be honest (I'm not dumb enough to think they will be, I'm just saying that they should be) and tell voters that sometimes it is in our nation's best interest for taxes to go up. They should explain to them that there is no evidence, despite what some will claim, that raising taxes automatically hurts our economy. There is also no evidence to show that cutting taxes automatically helps our economy. What we need in government is honesty and realism not absolutist pledges designed to pander to voters. So how do we start moving towards what we need instead of the garbage we currently get?

I have an answer to that question. You see I am starting my own pledge, not for political candidates, but for voters;
I ____________ pledge to not vote for any political candidate in a local, state, or federal election who has signed an absolutist pledge to do or not do something.
So come on people, show that you care about our country. Show that you are intelligent enough to realize that things can change quickly and that our politicians need some flexibility in order to govern effectively and efficiently. Show that you are sick and tired of political pandering designed only to further one person's political career. Let your friends and neighbors know that you care about America and don't want to see any limitations put on its ability to succeed or respond to an unexpected situation. Show everyone that you are smarter than the idiots who would sign an absolutist pledge of this sort by signing my pledge...

OK, don't worry about signing my pledge, but I do encourage you to put it to action. We need effective politicians, not pandering, and we should take the time to look deeper into the promises being made to us. Sometimes politicians actually keep their promises. That can be pretty frightening when you think about it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Birthers, a second look.

Last week I wrote a post about an encounter I had with a birther. I was rather shocked to meet someone who still held on to the false belief that President Obama was not born in the United States. All of the available, real, evidence shows that President Obama was born in the United States in Hawaii, (read the evidence here, here, here, here, here, and here) so how could anyone still believe he was born anywhere else? As a liberal my mind went to the same place that many liberal's minds go to when confronted with a birther, that the birther movement is populated by nothing but stark raving mad racists who hate the President simply because of the color of his skin but who want to hide their racism behind Section 1 of Article 2 of the US Constitution. I mean that is the only logical explanation as to why someone would believe such a ridiculous story... or is it?

Last week I also mentioned the work of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in a post. Ever since I first learned of Dr. Haidt's work, researching how we make moral judgments, I have been reading everything I could find that he has written. Well last week a new book by Dr. Haidt was released, The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics. In this book Haidt not only looks at how we make moral judgments, he also looks at why we make the judgments that we do. Haidt uses a metaphorical "graphic equalizer" (the set of sliders on your old stereo that you could move up and down individually to adjust the sound) with six sliders. Instead of representing a value of sound each slider represents a moral concern in Haidt's metaphorical example, Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. After years of questioning individuals to see how strongly they react to each of these moral concerns Haidt was able to see a pattern form that showed how liberals and conservatives responded differently. Liberals set the slider for care (or reducing harm) as high as it would go, liberty and fairness were also set quite high, but loyalty, authority, and sanctity were all very low on the scale. In contrast Conservatives set all of the sliders reasonably high and at almost identical levels. So while care didn't register quite as high with conservatives as it did with liberals, authority rated much higher with conservatives. Of course there is variation shown in individuals of both groups (and libertarians have to be considered completely separate from either liberals or conservatives) but the results were more than consistent enough to make a very strong generalization.

So what does this have to do with birthers not being racists?

It is no secret that most conservatives are not big fans of President Obama, in fact many detest him. They see him as disloyal to their vision of America. He violates their emphasis on sanctity by not holding as sacred many of the things that they do. They believe he cares too much about certain groups while blaming other groups for harm done to the groups he supports, and on social issues they see him too willing to expand liberty to include things they disagree with. So even if a particular conservative places more emphasis on one of the moral concerns than others there is a good chance that they will find disagreement with President Obama in that area. With one possible exception.

I can't remember hearing a loud chorus of conservatives claiming that the 2008 presidential election was rigged. There wasn't an entire movement of conservatives claiming that Obama stole the election and so it seems that conservatives, in general, do accept that Obama was fairly elected. In our country a person can gain authority over others through many ways, including being elected to the office of President of the United States of America. Conservatives tend to hold authority in great esteem and feel that it should be granted due respect. Some conservatives will put even greater emphasis on the importance of authority than other moral concerns, for these conservatives President Obama (truthfully any elected liberal) poses a serious problem.

You see if someone is fairly elected president and you strongly value authority it creates a problem for you if you want to vocally oppose that president. As I mentioned in the previous blog posting Haidt shows us that we do not arrive at moral judgments through reasoning and thought. We arrive at moral judgments through quick intuition and then use reasoning to come up with an explanation for the judgment we made. We have to have a good enough explanation that it satisfies others, and our own sense of values. We are so adept at performing these acts of post-hoc reasoning that we aren't even aware that we are working through the possible explanations for the judgments we have already made. This is what the birthers are trying to do. They know they don't like Obama, but they support the authority which Obama holds since he was fairly elected and so standing up against him would be disrespecting his authority. Unless his authority isn't real, isn't legitimate.

When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 conservatives claimed he wasn't legitimate because of his lack of military service and the fact that he had won the election with only 43% of the vote. They couldn't build anything resembling a logical argument for him being born outside of the US, but they still questioned his legitimacy. Herman Cain did quite well in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination for a while, Michael Steel was elected to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Alan Keys was drafted to run as the republican candidate against then Illinois Senate member Barack Obama for the US Senate. All of these men are African Americans which makes it hard to claim that conservatives in general hold racist beliefs against African Americans. It is hard to say that it is an issue of xenophobia as well when you remember the initial popularity Austrian born and raised Arnold Schwarzenegger held among conservatives when he was first elected as governor of California. It would have much easier for me as a liberal to just see the birthers as crazy racists, but I can't find a way to make their actions equate with racism.

I have the feeling that if Barack Obama's father had been from Spain or France instead of Kenya there would be a fake Spanish or French birth certificate circulating on the internet today. Barack Obama being the legitimate leader of the United States is a very hard thing for many conservatives to deal with as it brings into conflict several of the moral concerns that they use to guide themselves through life. They cling to this false idea because without it their world starts to crumble a little at the edges. Most don't make these claims for attention, or for fame, they make these claims to try and help make the world a place they can understand once again. Their actions have much less to do with simple mean spiritedness than they do with moral self preservation.

I dislike the birthers less now than I did before. I feel I have a better understanding of why they do what it is that they do and I also realize that my previous beliefs about them reflected a bit of bigotry in myself towards conservatives. Truthfully I find myself pitying them a bit now. Of course a conservative would say that I am just being a typical liberal. There would be a considerable amount of truth in what they said.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Facebook and politics

In Tennessee we have seen a rash of backwards, bigoted legislation proposed that has been moving through the state House and Senate at a fairly rapid pace. Now Tennessee is a pretty darn red state, but there are still large numbers of democrats and liberals here. There have been a few protests and marches staged against this legislation, but sadly the turn out for these events hasn't been very impressive. This is sad because the local media loves to cover events of this sort and when they show up and broadcast images of 20 or 30 people standing in front of the state capital it doesn't make it seem like there is a huge amount of opposition to these bills.

Now take a look back at 2009. In many parts of the country, including Tennessee, there were huge rallies in support of the tea party. We have all seen the polls and it is obvious that only a small percentage of the people in our country support the tea party, but images of hundreds or thousands of angry conservatives standing around, screaming, with signs raised, gave the movement more momentum than it would have had without such images.

Now go even further back to the 1960's and 70's. All over the country people took to the streets to show support for civil rights and to show opposition to the Vietnam War. Women were calling out for equal rights while burning their bras as men a block away were burning their draft cards.

Obviously the conservatives took a page from the liberal play book while it seems liberals have thrown that same book in the trash. So why do conservatives at least look so much more involved and energized than liberals? I blame Facebook.

Take a look at this map. When I first saw it I noticed something interesting. It doesn't match up perfectly, but if you overlaid a map showing political affiliations on top of this map there is a correlation between the two. The more conservative states tend to have lower levels of Facebook usage while the more liberal states tend to have higher levels. There are many reasons why this could be happening, but I'm not interested in the reasons behind it. I am interested in the possible results this variance might have.

It seems like everyday I am confronted with links to online petitions when I open up my Facebook page. Being the good liberal that I am I go to the petitions, and if I agree with them I electronically sign them before patting myself on the back for taking action to support the things I believe in. Yes, I, and a lot of other people, are very lazy. Instead of taking three hours to participate in a protest or weeks to organize one I fill in a few lines of text and hit send. Call me an armchair activist I guess.

But what if I, and you, didn't have access to Facebook or the internet? What if we simply chose not to use them even if we had the access? Would we be more inclined to leave our homes and make our voices heard in person at the centers of power? Without Facebook and the internet would we see any other way of voicing our grievances? Yes, Facebook and Twitter have been used to aid the organization of many political actions and movements, but is the effect always positive? I think these movements would be larger, in a visible sense, if people couldn't find ways to participate in them from the comfort of their own homes. I have seen with my own eyes how many people watched the streaming video of Occupy Nashville protesters getting arrested a few months ago, but it seemed very few of those people watching were interested in being where the action was. They made a choice between activist entertainment and activism, the entertainment won out.

So next time an online petition shows up in your news feed do more than just sign it. Check into the issue and find time to go support it in a physical way if it is something you believe in. If all of us really did something to change the course of our state instead of just virtually doing something I think Tennessee, and the rest of America, would be a much better place.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why I love the internet...

I love the internet, I really do. I had my first contact with the internet in 1993, there was no web, IRC (internet relay chat) was as close as you could get to a form of social media, ftp, gopher, archie, these were the ways information was shared and discovered. I am not waxing nostalgic, I am thrilled that the internet has evolved and expanded into something that even a geek's mother can use. I am awed by the mass of information and opinions that can be found on the web, of course, as a blog writer, I am most happy that it provides me a way to voice my opinions to people I don't even know who may or may not agree with anything I write.

So today I would like to share with you the opinions of someone I don't know and that I don't agree with. I don't want to berate this person or make fun of him, but I would like to use him as an example of how our beliefs come to be and why we have such strong opinions in this country.

The link above will carry you to a short video from one of CNN's "iReporters". These are individuals who create their own content voicing their opinions or detailing the news in their hometowns. CNN selects from their submissions and posts them on their website. Well this one caught my attention.

JVHill, as this person refers to himself, has posted several videos and after watching a few of them I would be willing to guess that he at least is a supporter of the Tea Party movement. He seems to have a strong distrust/dislike for our federal government and in this video he is laying at least part of the blame for the recent rise in gas prices on our congress and President Obama. He takes an interesting approach that I really enjoyed. First of all he is pretty non-partisan in his attack (although it seems to my liberal ears that his dislike of Obama is stronger than his dislike of congress), anything that I see these days that is even close to being non-partisan is a bit of a surprise and I will say that I found this aspect of JVHill's video rather refreshing. Secondly JVHill uses his video to pray to God for gas prices, not to go down, but to go up to $5 a gallon. Outside of a few oil executives we wouldn't expect many people to be praying for an increase in gas prices, but there is JVHill calling on God to keep the prices moving towards heaven. It isn't that he is thrilled about paying more, he simply argues that our government is doing nothing to bring gas prices down and the only way that the American populace will ever forcefully demand that the government do something is for prices to get so out of control that we feel we have no other choice. Like I said, this is a very interesting approach.

When you think about it though it is a really odd thing for a conservative to say. Conservatives, especially Tea Party supporters, say they want the government out of our lives. They claim that the government can't do anything right. They support letting the private sector take over many government roles because the private sector always does a better job than the government. Yet JVHill is calling for the government to intervene in the oil markets and take action to lower gas prices. Michelle Bachmann supported the same concept in her presidential campaign when she said that if she was elected she would reduce gas prices down to $2 a gallon. Recently Newt Gingrich has also jumped on this bandwagon and said that if he is elected he will bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon. So why are all of these conservatives supporting the government getting involved in the oil markets and messing around with capitalism when it contradicts everything they believe in? Because they, just like myself, you, and pretty much everyone else, aren't very good at formulating what it is that we believe. We are, however, very good at rationalizing what we believe.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, recently published a book titled "The Righteous Mind" that looks at how we arrive at what it is that we believe. We would all like to think that our beliefs are based on reason and rational thought. In fact that has been the scientifically accepted theory for quite sometime, but according to Dr. Haidt's research that just isn't the way things work.

Imagine you see a piece of paper with a drawing on it. Is that drawing beautiful or ugly? Within moments you could probably answer that question, but if you were asked to explain why you think the drawing is beautiful or ugly you might have a hard time coming up with a good reason. That's OK, we all know that different people like certain artists more than others, we all like certain colors more than others, we like different types of music, and we are all pretty much OK with the fact that not everyone agrees with us when it comes to aesthetic decisions.

Dr. Haidt took a similar approach to our moral beliefs. He did a study in which an individual would have a situation described to them. The situation getting the most attention in the media involves an adult brother and sister who are on vacation together. They are in their hotel room after having a few drinks and their conversation takes an unusual turn. The two of them decide to have sex. The brother wears a condom and the sister is on the pill so there is no chance of a pregnancy. Neither one of them is romantically involved with anyone else at the time. They both enjoy the sex but agree that it was a one time thing and that they would tell no one about it. They also both feel that the event has brought them closer together. The subjects of this research, after hearing the story, were asked what they felt about what they had just heard. Almost unanimously the subjects responded that it was wrong for the siblings to have had sex. When asked why it was wrong many responded that if the woman got pregnant her child could be born deformed. When reminded that there was no chance of a pregnancy many said it could hurt their relationship. When reminded that it brought the to of them closer many responded that it could hurt the rest of their family. When reminded that the two agreed to not tell anyone else the subjects, having run out of reasons for the way that they felt, would respond with something like "well it is just wrong, I don't know why but it is".

As you can see our moral beliefs share much in common with our aesthetic beliefs, they are formed not by reason but by intuition. The difference is that we are not normally expected to be able to defend our aesthetic beliefs while our moral beliefs come under question with some frequency. So while reason doesn't form our beliefs it does play a major role in our belief systems. We use reason to defend and support our beliefs, to ourselves and to others. When we find we believe something we feel then need to explain why and so we reason out an explanation. We will ignore facts, just as the subjects of the above experiment did, and build a moral story that fits our needs. JVHill has done that in his video. I do that in my blog postings. We all do that in our daily lives. The thing is that we are so good at creating our moral stories that we don't even realize we are doing it. It all seems perfectly rational and reasonable to ourselves because we have, to some extent, created the reality we have chosen to live in.

This has huge implications for the governing of our cities and states and our nation. If we could all come to terms with the fact that our moral beliefs, and therefor our political beliefs, have a strong tendency to be based on spur of the moment intuition instead of deep thought and consideration, we might be able to see where the other side is coming from a bit better as well. Don't get me wrong, deep thought and consideration do come into play, but not very often in the decision making process, only in the rationalization process, in other words we all use spin. So don't hate on politicians for spinning things to their best advantage. It isn't that they are lying, quite often they really believe what they are saying and are probably quite shocked when we don't believe them. We have to remember, not only do politicians spin things, we all do, and we normally don't even realize it.

So, to Mr. JVHill I say thank you. I believe you are totally wrong in blaming high gas prices on the government, unless you are placing that blame on the deregulation of the speculative markets which have been the primary reason for the increase. I think you are contradicting yourself by even making this video. I think praying to God for higher gas prices is a bit odd, especially praying to God for higher as prices just as a way to punish our elected officials. But I celebrate your spin, your ability to rationalize that this video is OK at this moment. Your ability to put aside the what you believe most of the time in order to rationalize what you are believing now and until gas prices drop back down 25 cents or so. Congrats JVHill, you have shown us all what it means to be human and that is a very valuable lesson. Without the internet you may have not been able to teach us. Yes, I love the internet.