Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why I support Bernie Sanders for president...

America is a great country, our history is far from perfect, but our people have a hopeful spirit and we believe in our ability to accomplish things and move forward. We believe in entrepreneurship and innovation, we believe in taking risks and doing things differently, we celebrate the success of those who have achieved great things and believe that if our own list of successes is not that vast it is only because our time has not yet come. All of these things have led to America becoming what it is today, the wealthiest nation in the entire history of the world, a place where people have lifted themselves out of poverty to become titans of industry, and a place where we know that hard work combined with ambition and determination can make a real difference. We have freedoms and liberties undreamed of in some other countries and we take great pride in who we are. This is why America is a great country and it fills me with pride to be an American. I am also filled with sadness to see all of this threatened by a government controlled by individuals who care less about what makes America great and more about what increases the size of their personal bank accounts. We are now in the midst of a presidential campaign, one that started off looking as though we would have no choice other than to elect someone who was a wealthy, well connected, member of a political dynasty, one who would continue the status quo and push us further down the path that has led us to our current position. Luckily for America this election has turned out to be much more interesting and lively than anyone could have expected. It looks like we may wind up having a real choice, a real chance to alter the path our nation is on, we might actually find that our votes don't have to be for just one side of the coin or the other. This is a great thing for America, if Americans put the effort into really learning about the issues we face and how the people running for president will respond to these issues. My own research into the issues and the possible solutions and which candidate stands for what, along with some additional information I have that many Americans don’t has led to select Bernie Sanders as the candidate who I think is best for America and her future.

So all Americans are faced with making a very important decision. We are being offered a real choice this time around and the outcome of this election will undoubtedly impact the future of our country in some very important ways. We will turn to the nightly news and our friends and coworkers to get their opinions. We can study the candidate's voting record or history in the business world, we can look for answers in the Bible or the Koran, we can listen to the speeches and late night talk show appearances the candidates make. All of these things can help each of us reach a decision on who to vote for and I have been paying attention to all of them. I also have another set of information that I can rely on that isn't available to the average American and I want to share this information with you so it can be included in your decision making. It might sway you or it may not, but what I have seen and experienced over the last couple of years makes me believe that it is very much worth considering and that if we all included this information in our decision making process it could be very beneficial for America.

The information I want to share comes from living outside of the United States for a couple of years. Specifically I have been living in the Netherlands, a small country in Northern Europe wedged between Germany, Belgium, and the North Sea. The time I have spent here has allowed me to see, first hand, what happens when a country takes a different path than America. To see the results of certain policies and programs with my own eyes instead of just watching what one talking head or another with a particular agenda has to say on TV. I have been surprised by many of the things I have seen here and my mind has changed on several issues. It has affected who I will be voting for, I hope you can find this information valuable to your own decision making process.

The Netherlands is a democracy with a very strong work ethic and capitalist background. In its colonial past the Netherlands acquired new territory mainly through making business deals instead of through military force. Its cities and villages are filled with businesses run by large corporations as well as by individuals and families. Making money is considered a very worthwhile pursuit in the Netherlands. If a demand exists, a business will also exist to meet that demand. In many ways it is very similar to the United States, but there are some important differences as well.

Here in Holland everyone has health insurance, it is not typically provided by the government but is instead provided through employers by private health insurance companies. The health care system is effective, efficient, and care is provided with less waiting time than it is in America. It isn't free, but costs are kept under control so that everyone can afford it and everyone is required to be part of the health care system.

The Dutch education system is amazing. Children go to schools that are funded by the government but normally run by private organizations. Often times these are religious organizations or civic groups that are required to meet government regulations while at the same time being allowed to bring their own culture into the educational process. Higher education is also funded by the government through a series of exceptionally high quality universities and technical schools. Higher education is not free, but costs are regulated so that everyone can afford to get an education if they choose to.

The cities and villages around the Netherlands are all very well connected by a public transportation system that makes it easy and affordable to get from place to place and it is well utilized by all sectors of society. This allows many people to have the option of not owning a car saving them large amounts of money they would have spent on fuel, insurance, maintenance, taxes, and parking. Instead they can put this money towards other things that they feel are more important in their personal lives.

Homelessness is very rare in the Netherlands as the government will find places for you to live and make sure you have access to healthcare and food if you can't afford it any other way. Unlike the situation in America, if you are homeless in Holland it is much more likely to have been an actual choice on your part.

Crime rates, when compared to America are exceptionally low in Holland. Muggings and pickpocketing exist, but shootings and other violent crimes are very rare when compared to the United States. You feel safe when walking the streets at night in the vast majority of places.

While the national government of the Netherlands is quite strong it does not hold all of the power. Local governments, the sections of the government closest to and most connected to the people, have considerable power here. The national government may provide funding to local governments that has to be spent on roads or on education or on cultural initiatives but the municipalities get to determine how those funds are specifically spent in their areas. This allows tax money to be spent in the most effective ways possible and so it can benefit the largest number of people possible.

As in much of Western Europe there are more regulations imposed by the Dutch government than in the US. This doesn't mean that business are more highly regulated here than in America though. First of all there are numerous regulations handed down by the government that businesses must follow in America, but on top of that America is a country where lawsuits, sometimes frivolous and sometimes not, are exceptionally common. These lead to a secondary layer of self imposed regulations that most businesses follow. The next time you see a warning label on a product remember that there is a very good chance that it wasn't placed there by the government, instead it was placed there by a group of lawyers doing their best to try and protect the company from getting sued. This, from what I have seen, leads to businesses in America being much more highly regulated and restricted than they are in the Netherlands.

Wages in the Netherlands are higher than in America, this probably comes as no surprise, but they have also instituted a tiered minimum wage system. If you are 16 year old student the minimum wage for you is not as high as it is for a 25 year old. The 25 year old is much more likely to not be living with his or her parents, to have a family to support, to have other additional expenses and so they need to make more money to make sure they are a productive part of society. This allows young people to find jobs easier in entry level positions where few skills and little experience is needed, while making sure that older, more experienced workers can make a real living wage. Do not forget, however, that the 16 year old is still making more than minimum wage in America.

The infrastructure in the Netherlands is amazing. Not just the roads and public transportation systems, but also the electrical grid, internet speeds, telephone service, water and sewage, and airports. No one in the Netherlands lives very far from an international airport. Since all of the phone, internet, and electrical lines (except for high voltage transmission lines) are underground, storms rarely cause outages. Internet speeds that would be too expensive for most to afford in America are commonplace and cheap here. All of this exists because the government is involved. In my hometown of Nashville I had very little choice in who I could obtain high speed internet service from. Here, since the lines are controlled by the government but open for many companies to utilize, I have a wide variety of companies to choose from and the competition keeps the costs down to very affordable levels.

I could go on and on, but this should give you an idea of how the government makes life better for people in the Netherlands. At the same time the Netherlands is a place where you are free to practice your religion, or not. To say what you think, or keep your mouth shut if you choose. To own a gun provided you are willing to meet the requirements for owning a gun. It is a very free country, possibly more free than America in many ways because the elected officials in the government aren't allowed to be bought and sold by billionaires. This means that they respond to the wants and desires of the majority of the people they represent instead of really only representing a tiny minority of the people. The Netherlands is far from a perfect place, but I think there are many things America could learn from it.

People in The Netherlands work hard and take risks not because of a lack of a safety net, but because a strong safety net exists. In America if you start a new business and it fails, you can lose everything. This prevents many people from starting a new business or trying to turn their ideas into great new inventions. The rewards may be great, but the risks are just too high. In Holland you know that if your business fails you at least will still be able to feed and house your family and send your kids to college, this makes taking risks much more worthwhile and means that the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and well in Holland.

In Holland almost everyone speaks English extremely well along with their native Dutch and often times German and French as well. This allows the Netherlands to be very competitive in the global market. This is only possible because the Dutch place great importance on education, schools are well funded, teachers are well paid, higher education is kept affordable. All of this allows the Netherlands to be a center of high tech industry and a world leader in innovation. You need well educated people to compete and lead in the world today, America is falling behind in this area. Sure, we have of the best paid college presidents and coaches in the world, but many students can’t afford college or are forced into crushing debt to attend and our country has suffered as a conequence.

In Holland seeing your primary physician never costs you a penny. This means that people are willing to go to the doctor sooner which means a simple problem can be more often kept from turning into a serious condition. This means less sick days and a more productive workforce. Also adding to the high productivity levels here are a minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation per year, paid maternity leave, and higher wages that make employees willing to work harder because they don't feel like they are being cheated every time they see one of their pay stubs. This also allows more families to have a parent who is able to be at home with the kids at all times which of course is better for the children who become the next generation of well educated, well paid, and highly motivated workers and entrepreneurs. Workers in the Netherlands are pretty much just as productive as workers in America but American full time workers put in an average of 46.7 hours a week while Dutch workers average just 29 hours per week. Think about overtime pay and regular pay combined and see if it really seems that American companies are saving money by paying their employees less and offering them fewer benefits?

I know what many of you are thinking, what about taxes? It is true that taxes are considerably higher here in the Netherlands than in the United States, there is no doubt about that. But to stop the conversation there wouldn't tell the entire story. You have to compare the cost against the benefits. For example, if someone could move into a city and be closer to work, have more free time and spend less on fuel because of a shorter commute, spend more time with their family, get an extra hour of sleep every day, and generally live a higher quality of life but they refused because their rent would go up by 10%, something they could easily afford, you would think they are crazy. We should think the same way about taxes. Yes, taxes in the Netherlands are higher, but they result in lower healthcare costs, lower educational costs, lower transportation costs, a higher quality of life, and many other benefits that greatly outweigh the higher tax rates. The problem isn't high taxes, the problem is feeling like you get nothing in return for your taxes. In America we could lower our taxes by 90% but if we didn't feel like we were getting anything for our money we would still think our taxes were too high. This is why the higher taxes aren't a big problem in the Netherlands, they still feel like quite a bargain.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that we could learn a tremendous amount from a country like the Netherlands but so far in the presidential race it only seems one candidate has paid attention to these lessons. Bernie Sanders has stood up for workers and American families, he supports policies that will benefit the middle class and help the poor work their way out of poverty. He is the only candidate who is not being supported by billionaire donors who want to maintain the current policies that are benefiting them in the short term but destroying America over time. This means he is the only candidate who can act on these lessons because he isn't beholden to the 1%. He sees the ripple effects of policies like these, fight poverty and you can't help but be fighting racism at the exact same time. Increase educational opportunities and you increase business opportunities as well. Creating a better public transportation system creates more jobs and gives people more access to opportunities. All of these things could happen in America. All of these things could benefit everyone in America, even the wealthiest among us. Bernie Sanders wants to combine the best ideas from countries like Norway and Denmark and the Netherlands with the drive and ambition of America so that the United States can work better, be more efficient, and make opportunity a concept that is available to everyone.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who wants to help America live up to its potential and he is the only candidate who will be able to do anything other than simply serve the desires of the wealthy. Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who really understands and supports the American dream. That's why I support Sanders for president.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Supreme Court didn't do what you probably think it did...

Kim Davis, the county clerk from a rural Kentucky county, has reignited the arguments over same sex marriage. I will talk later about her demonstrably false claims that she shouldn't have to issue marriage licenses because of "religious liberty". Starting off I want to talk about a claim that the right wing keeps making, that the US Supreme Court created a new right to gay marriage in their ruling.

Many on the right argue that there is no right to same sex marriage, or marriage in general in the US Constitution an so it is a matter left up completely to the states. In a way they are correct. The US Constitution does not address marriage, gay or otherwise, and the Supreme Court can not make new laws. They use this information to try and say that the SCOTUS decision is invalid and some are saying that states, or individual clerks or judges, should not issue marriage licenses if they don't want to. Of course this is an argument without any merit at all.

While I agree that the US Constitution does not directly address marriage, it does address the way states deal with the laws on their books. It does this in one way in Article 6, Clause 2 of the Constitution, a passage known as the Supremacy Clause. This clause states that federal law is the supreme law of the land and that state law can not conflict with federal law or the US Constitution. If state law does fall into conflict with federal law then the Supreme Court can invalidate the state law as it first did in Ware v. Hylton in 1796. The Supremacy Clause is not some esoteric bit of legalese, it is a well recognized and firmly established part of US law. So all of those people who tell you that the Supreme Court can't over turn a state law, well they are 100%, completely, and totally full of shit.

Of course those people will respond by saying in this case the Supremacy Clause doesn't apply because nothing in the Constitution or federal law establishes a right for a same sex couple to get married, and they are kind of right while at the same time being totally wrong and ignorant of what the Supreme Court actually did.

The Supreme Court didn't say that the Constitution grants same sex couples the right to marry. Sorry, they did not do that no matter how much you want to believe that they did. Instead the Supreme Court looked that the facts and found that all 50 states allow and regulate civil marriage. They also found that all 50 states recognize marriages between qualified couples from other states and countries. So every state is in the marriage business. If you look at Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution you will see a few words stating that all laws must be applied equally to everyone. This is known as the Equal Protection Clause. This prevents a state from saying that men can get drivers licenses but women can't. It says that a state isn't allowed to say that a particular ethnic group can't hold certain jobs. It says, in general, that if a state passes a law it has to apply to everyone. Guess what, a law stating that a man and woman can get married but that two men or two women can't get married is not applying the law equally to everyone. The Supreme Court didn't say that there is a constitutional right to same sex marriage, instead it said that we have a constitutional right to be treated the same under the law. This means that all laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman are in violation of the Constitution and were therefore over turned by the Supreme Court. It wasn't really about gay marriage, it was about fairness and equality.

I can already imagine that a conservative Christian would read what I said and bring up the fact that two 5 year olds can't get married and that states have the right to set limitations on and qualifications for marriage. This is of course, well, a stupid argument. You see those five year olds can get married, they just have to wait until they are older, which is something we can reasonably expect them to do. It is not, however, reasonable to expect one of the men in a gay couple to change his gender and so any law preventing them from marrying based solely on their gender would be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

There are some who still won't be happy with this and will say that federal law doesn't regulate marriage and therefore the Supreme Court should have kept their noses out of what is and always has been an issue for the states. Once again they would be wrong. In 1882 President Chester Arthur singed the Edmunds Act into law which made polygamy a felony, not just in the states that agreed with the law, but everywhere in the United States. The federal government said that marriage could only be legal when the marriage consisted of no more or no less than 2 people. It doesn't end there, in 1967 the Supreme Court heard Loving v. Virginia a case which was brought after the State of Virginia exiled a married couple from the state because the man was white and his wife was African American. This was also an equal protection case, and just like the decision discussed above the Court said that everyone had to be treated the same under state marriage laws, no matter what their race. The federal government can and has changed state marriage laws before, either through legislation or by the Supreme Court ruling that those laws violated the rights protected by the Constitution. Nothing here is odd, strange, illegal, or unconstitutional at all, it is exactly how our government is supposed to work.

What about religious liberty? you may ask. Well yeah, what about it? The Supreme Court is not going to issue a ruling that conflicts with the Constitution. This ruling had absolutely nothing to do with religious liberty because it in no way forces a church or a clergy member to take part in a same sex marriage (unless a clergy member is also a government employee or elected official involved with issuing marriage licenses). If someone works for the government in a position that involves dealing with marriages and they disagree with same sex marriage then they are free to resign, no one can force them to issue a marriage license they don't think they should because no one can force them to keep that job. In some states (less than half) there are anti discrimination laws which protect gays and lesbians, in those states a public business must serve the public unless someone is being disruptive or creating some other sort of nuisance. This means, in those states, if you own a bakery and don't want to bake a cake for a gay wedding because of your religious beliefs that you have got into the wrong kind of business. You see there is no such thing as a "Christian business", businesses are legal entities, not religious entities, and they exist to make a profit, not to save souls. If you are in a state that has laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination and you own a bakery that refuses to serve gay customers, well you aren't a religious martyr, you are a law breaker and you may very well suffer legal consequences. But hey, you decided to break the law so that is on you.

I hope this clears a few things up about marriage equality, because really, the issue isn't just marriage, it is also equality.