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Saturday, June 28, 2014

What's Wrong With American Politics?


Maybe there is something to be said for dictatorships as a form of government. Things have a tendency to get done…fast. The passage of laws—even if they are by decree—makes gridlock a non-factor. There is no partisan wrangling between competing political parties or branches of government. And there is none of the upheaval that has come to symbolize what politics in America has come to.
President Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low for his tenure in office. The Mississippi Tea Party is in an uproar after its U.S. Senate primary candidate lost to mainstream Republican opponent Thad Cochran—who in turn appealed to a non-traditional base of African-American voters to beat the T-Party’s candidate. Democrats are set to use populist wedge-issues—immigration and a potential raise in the minimum wage—to beat back predicted Republican gains, while walking on broken egg shells on other issues to protect endangered Democratic candidates. And the list goes on…
What can I possibly say, reveal, or speak to in terms of the broken state of politics in contemporary America that most clear-thinking individual don’t already know? The political—as well as the voting—process has been corrupted by the influence and infusion of money; we know this. The ideological and political gulf between opposing belief-holders has never been wider…much to the detriment of the legislative process. The disdain that many of us Americans have for our political leadership finds most of us ranking their appeal generally somewhere between toilet film and a root canal. And the few optimists who remain loyal to one side or the other are more adherent to party-lines, talking points, and platforms than to rational thinking and objectivity. Why is the American political apparatus so broken?
To list a complete analysis of why politics in America is at such a level of unproductive impotence would take bandwidths of terabytes of Internet bandwidth; even a summary would take volumes. However, the conclusion—as painful as it might be for those wishing otherwise—is that America’s system of politics is broken because we are a nation moving toward an oligarchy rather continually engaging in the ”great experiment” of (a) democracy. What’s more, the basic reasons for the emergence of government by the powerful (and not in fact, “We the People”) can at least be listed inasmuch as those with clearer minds would be open to considering both their reality and validity.

The Voting Electorate. 

I will be blunt here; the American voting electorate is pretty dumb. This is to say that we are very uninformed as a people responsible for picking and choosing our leadership. Most of us do not bother to engage in objective research on the issues in any given election…and those of us who do bother to do what passes for research only look up “facts” that support already-held positions. Those who identify with Republicans (or conservatives) will usually refer to Fox News, The Daily Beast, The Drudge Report, The Bible, or any number of “objective news” sources, while liberals (i.e., Democrats) will go to Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, NPR, or other similar news sources considered “unbiased.” Most American voters start our approaching any issue with a liberal or conservative foundation, and then “research” the “facts” from that point. The problem is that most of these “sources” are little more than platforms for ideological talking points and/or already established beliefs. In other words, most Americans obtain their beliefs of certain issues from propaganda rather than objectivity. We don’t seem capable of suspending our preconceived beliefs and ideas to approach an issue based on the merits rather than their ability to support our individual political ideologies.
What’s more, there are simply too many nuts running loose in our country who lack psychiatric supervision. This is to say that many of the things that “informed voters” believe are beyond the pale. September 11th was a government conspiracy. Abortion is part of a planned genocide against the black community. The female body has mechanisms to “protect against that sort of thing.” Obama is not an American. Political correctness reflects “cultural sensitivity.“ There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Global warming is a hoax. Money is “Free Speech.” The Constitution protects abortion.  Universally affordable health care is akin to slavery. …and these are the “rational” thoughts. We believe anything our elected “leadership” tells us, no matter how insane, how irrational, or how counter-intuitive to reality. These virtual lunatics on both the political left and right share the same voting booths as you and I, and are able to pass themselves off as part of the “informed” electorate, who share the responsibility for putting into office other such “rational” individuals who are only too happy to polly-parrot these extreme beliefs in the name of voter support (just listen to the things that come out of the mouths of Michelle Bachmann or Barney Frank).
We’re also fickle to no end. We have a “Mac-Mentality;” we want “solutions” hot, fast, and now…forgetting that it took years for many of the issues facing the country to make themselves known. We are quick to overlook the fact that our politicians are not magicians…they cannot fix any problem as fast as we would like. Because of this, we will vacillate between election-year political party candidates as often as we change underwear. And quite understandably, our politicians don’t know what issue to support or where people actually stand on a given issue—unless said issues are being spoon-fed to the voting electorate. So they too bounce back and forth between “for” and “against” certain policies. Our political leadership’s inability to stand on one particular aspect of an issue may be irritating, but it’s also a reflection of our own ability to stand still on an issue in a realistic sense. We tend to take sides, as if either side wears the white hats. As I’ve often said on so many occasions, we are too quick to attack the other guy, and reject the worst possibilities of our own political affiliations.

Big Money Influence 

In the last few years, Supreme Court decisions have all-but eviscerated the notion that the voting public effects both legislation and voting rights. Rulings like Citizens United have opened the floodgates for the infusion of endless amounts of cash “donations” into the political process by both private and political interests seeking to influence who makes the laws and how they are made. Under the veneer of “Free Speech,” connected political, financial, and organized private interests groups—those usually tied to business—are now able to purchase public policy (and/or its handlers). Private and moneyed interests are not able to shape and mold a government virtually according to their own design.
And since most of us, the voting electorate, tend to accept and heed the talking points of our political affiliations rather than reason and individual thinking, we buy into this dynamic. Too many Americans—who we only have our votes as an instrument of gaining a say in the political process—are too quick to defend the Big Money interests who have more sway over our lives than we like to think because they can influence how our legislators think and behave. We are literally voting and supporting a status quo that works against our self-interests when we protect and defend the infusion of [the] obscene amounts of money into the political process. This is true whether it be in the legalized form of bribery we call “lobbying,” or when we allow shadowy political groups to throw tons of money into campaigns that call for voting for an issue or candidate that we support simply because it reflects our political affiliations.


The startling takeaway is that we as American citizens now have little impact on governmental and legislative policy by way of our voting. The only exception to this is when highly organized and motivated individuals like those in the partisan Tea Party movement are able to affect a small number within a larger party. But the effect of the Tea Party’s ideological intransigence is also part of the problem in why our politics have become so dysfunctional—they are too wedded to the belief that they are right in what and how they believe government should function. To this effect, many of the movement’s supporters and candidates have often invoked the phrase “no compromise” when it comes to getting legislation passed. This in turn creates the gridlock that stymies current system of governance —such as it is—and destroys any chance for passage of any form of legislation. We now have a system where private, moneyed, and politically-connected interest groups, as well as their lackeys in the various levels of legislative halls, are a law unto themselves. Simply put, the majority doesn’t rule. I know that special interests do not have my interest at heart when they lobby (i.e., pressure) my Congressman or state legislator to either think or vote on their behalf. I’m still waiting to the rest of my fellow Americans to catch up to this fact…but I won’t hold my breath.

The Changing Economy 

Oddly enough, when America had a stable Middle Class, and when we were a nation that actually produced manufactured goods, we had a stable voting electorate. There were fewer socioeconomic and political divisions by which our politicians could drive a wedge through to exploit for personal gain. In fact, quite the opposite; we were more willing to overlook both the political decisions and indiscretions of our elected leaders because the effects of either didn’t seem to have an overt consequence to the public at-large. Iran-Contra didn’t turn into a general clamor for impeachment (except from the extreme Left). Former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry’s conviction for drug use during an FBI sting—one caught on video—didn’t affect his eventual re-election to that same position. And despite his allusions that his contentious congressional confirmation had racial overtones, Clarence Thomas was eventually confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
Our tolerance for decisions weak and/or questionable political decisions was far greater, relegated to the “all politicians lie,” or the “It doesn’t affect me and my family” ethos. As long as gasoline was cheap, jobs that actually paid the bills were still available, financial institutions were not overtly greedy (and corrupt), and our economy was still the envy of the world, why would any of us have complained…much less organize enough to take sides. But along the way, the economy and our political sensitivities started to change. While good-paying manufacturing began moving offshore in an effort to compete with the invasion of cheaper foreign-made products, a lower-paying service-based economy took over. Organized labor—unions—was assaulted from two points; the reduction in their numbers due to the off-shoring of jobs, and an assault on laws meant to protect union practices by business-friendly Republicans. This assault included curtailing laws that made it easier for Democratic-leaning to fund Democratic candidates and worker-friendly legislation. With unions (and their political money) weakened to historical levels, a supportive money supply to the Democratic Party was dried. This forced the Democrats into bed with the same kind of Big Money and private interest groups that the Republicans had cozied up to years earlier in order to raise party fund money (see: Lobbying Spending By Sector). Although many of those supporting legislation responsible for weakening organized labor will usually make references to “election fairness,” “economic concerns,” accusations of union “corruption” as justifications for doing so, make no mistake about it—attacks on unions were more about securing political advantage for benefitting political parties (and candidates), and not for the greater good (although one would be hard-pressed to deny that denials of such provide for the most elegant of rebuttals).
What's worse, many rank-and-file Americans have started to buy into the political narrative (put forth in part to defend the actions of those jockying for political fund-raising advantage) that "union greed" is what was responsible for the transformation of the American economy rather than the natural and inevitable drive by manufacturers to drastically find a way to increase profits in the face increasing global competition. We have forgetten that it was the labor-friendly demands of unions—higher wages, benefits, and reasonable hours to name a few—that helped to create a stable Middle Class in the first place.  This leads into the final factor contributing to our sad state of politics in America...

The Political Class

When I talk about the political class in America, what I am generally speaking to are not only career lobbyists, but career politicians, elected members of both major political parties, 501 (C )(4) political organizations (associated non-disclosed donors), and regular corporate economic entities—all of which/who form what can be unarguably considered the new ruling oligarchy in America. This is the say that these groups and individuals are so politically active and themselves informed about the inner workings as well as the mechanics of the legislative process that they can literally shape laws that benefit each entity and individual within this ruling political class. Our politicians are merely a means to this end. In most cases, these people and/or groups can be recognized by their constant presence in politics, their last names—especially in the cases of political “dynasties” (e.g., families that constantly produce career politicians)—and the influence they wield in affecting the legislative process.
Regardless of political party affiliation, most of the ruling oligarchy tends to be mainstays in the halls of power in this country, with some 50% of retiring or electorally defeated Congressmen taking up with lobbying firms in continuing to influence the legislative process on behalf of the highest bidder.
Even in the case of the few who aren’t as personally motivated by monetary gain, they are too beholden to their ideological (and by extension, their political party’s) beliefs to be effective legislators. This means that they tend to embrace party-lines and baseless thinking in order to appeal to their respective bases and remain in power for the sake of careers in “public service.” This is why climate change deniers, race-baiters, proponents of immigration “reform,” and those who think all taxes are “bad” tend to maintain their popularity among their respective supporters. This means that many of our elected leadership will literally say and promise anything in order to protect their political positions. Many have conned the American voting electorate into thinking we actually have a choice—via our votes—over which direction our country should go when it comes to the legislative process when in reality, the politically-connected ruling oligarchy makes these decisions.


Admittedly somewhat cynical, our American oligarchs have designs to pull the strings of political system in order to suck as much wealth as possible from the nation (and its people) by ensuring cheaper labor, government subsidies, and other favorable legislation that ensures greater profits and the free flow of capital among and between each other. Additionally, political oligarchs in this country seek to hoard the wealth they collect by saving money in the form of tax cuts and favorable tax rates. To enable these designs, political oligarchs employ a army of lawyers, image consultants, and public relations too sculpt favorable images of politicians who work to protect the wealth of their fellow oligarchs.
Politicians and other members of the political class all-but crippled the Middle Class by sucking all the wealth and promise out from it via usurping the political and legislative process. And without a strong middle class, America cannot offer its citizens a chance to improve their lives, to maintain the infrastructure required for commerce and growth, or support those citizens that need a safety net thanks to lower-paying employment (See: “How the Middle-Class Got Screwed”). The political class cheats the system as it was meant to be in order to steal the wealth of our nation and hoard it for themselves.
But in order to keep attention off of themselves and their designs, oligarchs will often sow the seeds of dissent among competing groups of Americans. Liberal vs. conservatives. Immigrants vs. native-born citizens. Ethnicity vs. ethnicity. We blame each other for “ruining the country,” while the political class benefits. The fact is, when you look at the military, you will find both liberals and conservatives in uniform. I would like to believe that both liberals, conservatives, as well as those in between love that the American Constitution is supposed to reflect the will of the people, not the special interests, and certainly not the interests of the political (and economic) ruling class in America. However, as much as we would like to believe that our vote counts, it seems that our country is being controlled and manipulated by the moneyed and politically-connected elite—and not We The People!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Tragedy Of Iraq (...or "Iraq Is Burning!")

First, I would like to thank those who continually read Beyond The Political Spectrum in attempting to keep up with important events in the news. At the same time, I would like to apologize to those same regular readers for not routinely posting in the last several months on a regular basis. Some of you might know that I have been working to publish a series of crisis-themed books meant to serve as a comprehensive source for disaster planning for both individuals as well as organizations. With that having been said, with so much news and so many associated issues regarding this news, it would simply make sense to just touch on the most relevant item in the news currently.



Sunni insurgents linked with a more radical offshoot of al-Queda driving through Mosul, the second largest city in the country.

Iraq 
If one were attempting to sum up the lowest point in the American involvement in Iraq—2006 and 07—in terms of the political, military, and religious upheavals, the best word would be “quagmire.” Currently, the best word that could most accurately describe the current situation in terms of the military gains of the radical Sunni Muslim insurgency on the march toward the Iraqi capital of Baghdad—as Iraqi government military forces deserted the field of battle en masse—is “tragedy.” Tragedy was in fact the best description from the start of the ill-advised decision of the U.S. to invade the country in the first place in 2003…under the erroneous assumption that its former leadership harbored “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD’s).
Tragedy is the way proponents within the American government attempted to social engineer post-Saddam Hussein by imposing regime change. Granted, Hussein was not the most stable of individuals, his presence did create level of stability that kept any indication of sectarianism from manifesting as anything but occasional unpleasantries between individuals from opposing religious sects. Maybe the late dictator actually knew something about the intra-religious dynamics of his own country that American “experts” didn’t (and still don’t). Maybe a brutal strongman or a heavy hand in governance is all that stands between order and the chaos of ethnic and religious divisions played out in the realm of violent confrontations. We saw this play out in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, when the artificial political boundaries created after WWI ignored these human divisions in favor of creating recognized nation-states. Like in Iraq, pre-2003 oppressive rule managed to lightly smother the true inter-ethnic feelings and differences under the surface. That is, until the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-dominated central government all-but disenfranchised the Sunni population in the country…the same Sunni who some have taken up with the insurgents. Before the current crisis, ethnic and religious fighting was unheard of as a result of tough rulership. Tragedy too, is the result of not heeding the lessons of history.
Tragic still is the fact that we Americans are so ethnocentric, so self-assured that our way of form of governance and viewing the world that we couldn’t—and still can’t—stop to think for a single moment that Western-style democracy doesn’t work for everyone. This is especially true when tribal identities are more potent than national identities. This is why the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgency seeks to impose strict Islamic law in Sunni state carved out of parts of both Syria and central Iraq—a stated that ignores national political borders.
Currently, the only bright spot in Iraq—a region of relative calm and political stability—is the Kurdish Regional Government in the country’s northern border region. The ethnic Kurdish government, taking advantage of the instability in other parts of the country, has seized nearby lands abandoned by Iraqi government forces in what seems to be a move reflective of an intent to become more autonomous from Baghdad (these lands contain some of the country’s oil production resources). Kurdish stability seems to be the only non-tragic aspect of this chaos.
Finally, tragedy is the best way to describe accusations and finger-pointing toward President Obama being the “reason” for the devolving situation in Iraq…the same Obamawho voted against the invasion of Iraq as Senator Obama back in 2003. Tragedy is the denial by supporters of that action to accept complicity in the creation of this monster. Ultimately, Iraq is a Frankenstein that could have been avoided being created in the first place if we Americans were not so arrogant to believe that everyone in the world will great us with flowers, so ignorant of other (the divisions among) peoples in the world, and blinded of our own sometimes insanely-held ideologies and political alliances that we cannot accept responsibility for the problems we create.

video


Correction (06/16/14):

I stand corrected on the president’s voting record, but his opposition to the war has been documented on record before becoming either a Senator or the president (see, some of us can admit being wrong).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Question Of The Day - Raising The Minimum Wage?

Given all of the recent talk about growing economic inequality, the gap between real wages and what these wages can buy, the cost of living, and the effects of long-term unemployment, (I thought it was necessary to put the question of what the American people think about the idea of raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.


In responding, keep the following perspective in mind:

-Congress, our "esteemed" federal legislative body, 50% of which are millionaires whose better-than-decent retirement plan WE taxpayers pay for can vote THEMSELVES a pay raise...
-Athletes who WE pay to watch (in one form or another) can earn millions of dollars a year...
-Corporate officers/CEO's/CFO's of companies WE work for can earn million-dollar salaries and golden parachutes severance packages --ALL because "they earned it."

But WE hard-working Americans can't have a minimum wage in line with the cost of living because it will "destroy jobs?" Some politicians apparently "care" about Americans having "jobs," just not well-paying ones.


Should The Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25 hr. Be Raised?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Voter I.D. -- A Motive In A Snapshot!

Just a little something to think about is rejecting the narrative that new voter identification laws "protect the integrity of the voting process" (funny how the voting process "integrity" wasn't threatened until recent times).


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Disaster Planning Publications - Now Available

Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t been writing and/or blogging as regularly as I have in the past. Although I still manage to keep abreast of many issues—social, political, and financial—my time been consumed by writing and publishing books. My first (among many future) endeavors is a series of crisis manuals based on a crapload of research I had intended for another project.
The first four of these crisis manuals have already been published, and two of them are already listed for sale on both Amazon.com. and Lulu.com. The first is called “The No-Nonsense Guide To Tornado Safety.” The guide is exactly what it appears to be—an 84-page source of information related to knowing about, planning for, and responding to tornadoes. In addition to providing a survey-level understanding of these potential disasters, the guide provides the most up-to-date advice and suggestions by weather and safety experts about what to do in (planning for in) the event that a tornado disaster. The guide gives a brief history of tornadoes and their effects as it relates to planning, as well as a series of appendixes that list—among other things—where publicly assessable tornado shelters (those operated by local municipalities as well as those privately-run) are to be found in the most tornado-prone regions in the country. There is also a state-by-state (province-by-province in Canada) listing for regional government offices charged with disaster-relief, as well a list for charitable organizations whose functions include the same. I designed these series of books to be a one-stop source of safety information on related disasters.

The No-Nonsense Guide To Tornado Safety

• Paperback: 84 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (November 22, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 1304648648 • ISBN-13: 978-1304648648 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounce
Amazon.com
Lulu.com

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

In addition, three more books in the series are also available for sale, with availability on Amazon projected in the future. I also hope to publish ebook versions of my publications when it becomes feasible given my time constraints. “The No-Nonsense Guide To Blizzard Safety,” a book whose subject-matter has become more relevant in recent weeks, is similarly designed to be a one-stop guide for anything and everything related to blizzard safety as well as planning in the event of blizzards.

The No-Nonsense Guide To Blizzard Safety

• Paperback: 54 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (December 21, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 9781304709394 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches • Shipping Weight: 0.28 pounds
Lulu.com
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

The third book in this series is “The No-Nonsense Guide To Flood Safety.”

 • Paperback: 60 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (November 22, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 1304648613 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches
Amazon.com
Lulu.com

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

The final published book in the series is “The No-Nonsense Guide To Hurricane Safety.”


• Paperback: 59 pages • Publisher: lulu.com (December 20, 2013) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 9781304733030 • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.2 inches
Lulu.com
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
I would urge everyone concerned about their safety and planning for their safety as it relates to natural (and man-made) disasters to purchase these books before the seasons for these events are upon us.

Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Television, Duck Dynasty, & Free Speech...What The Duck...?

Outside of the news and programs that are political, historical, or current-events-oriented (as well as one or two guilty pleasures), there is very little on television which interest me enough to waste my valuable time watching. This goes double for anything that fits into the so-called “reality television” genre of programming; I for the life of me cannot begin to fathom why such mental junk food is so appealing. I suppose it represents the dumbing down of America on the whole. At any rate, it is an issue regarding reality television’s current breakout hit that has me posting yet again an issue that begs discussion.
The issue at hand surrounds the unexplainable-to-sophisticated-minds popularity of the Arts and Entertainment cable network’s “Duck Dynasty” reality television series. Dynasty follows the “day-to-day” life of a mostly backwoods Louisiana living-off-the-land-type redneck family, who happen to run a successful a duck-call manufacturer (if you can believe that). Being dyed-in-the-wool, God-fearing, hard-patriotic, hard-hunting, hard-drinking, hard-fun-loving types of individuals, you can imagine that the family—and their members—might just harbor some attitudes and ideas about life that simply don’t conform to the all-inclusiveness aspirations of a society hell-bent on making everyone happy. Just looking at the family, any such ideas shouldn’t come as a surprise (at the risk of prejudging). But strangely enough, the words and thoughts of an elder from the television-spotlighted family actually shocked a large portion of sensitive Americans.

The cast of "Duck Dynasty"

As a result, once again as a nation we’re forced to confront not only another serving of numbskullery from television network producers, but the fallout from yet another case whereby a television personality is forced to endure the barbs and arrows of those who would seek to police the thinking of those of us who would dare to speak our minds. The issue this time around centers on remarks made by an elder-family member from the mind-numbing weekly show.
In an interview with GQ magazine (here), Phil Robertson, the elder of the now-famous Robertson family the show follows and founder of the family business candidly gave his opinions about—among other things—his thoughts on homosexuality. In responding to the question “what in your mind is sinful,” posed by GQ reporter Drew Magary, the unapologetic conservative Southern Christian responded:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Needless to say, this set off a furor in both the press and society at large. The sanctions came fast and furious; Robertson was suspended from being part of the filming of further episodes of the show. Keep in mind that this was an interview about Robertson’s personal thoughts and views, not a man running for public office or calling a press conference to shout out his beliefs.
More and more, it seems the First Amendment guarantee of Free Speech without government impediments is becoming irrelevant in a society where private enterprise and public interest groups are able to level socioeconomic sanctions that not only attempt to enforce political correctness of thought, but punish words and personal opinions. In fact, given the ubiquity of such policies in the public and private sectors, the way these institutions are able to enforce and impose “corrections” for daring to speak out has more than the force of law itself.  This social policy is more of a threat to our collective civil liberties relating to Free Speech than anything the government is doing at the moment.


Now in the interest of full-disclosure, before this issue came to light, I hadn’t even heard of “Duck Dynasty.” And being agnostic, I can honestly say that I do not purport to know or even predict where a person’s soul goes in the Hereafter due to their actions in the Herenow. But I’ll wager that that “God” is not in the cell phone contacts of anyone presumptuous (and arrogant) enough to inform another person that they are doomed to Hell (or some other spiritual torment) for not embracing someone else’s dogma—I know He/She isn’t in mine. However, I am of the mindset that whenever someone says something stupid, unreasonable, or judgmental, the best means to deal with it is to either ignore it or say something more intelligent and reasonable as a counter. Imposed censorship and/or sanctions, especially whereas they affect a person’s livelihood is not the way to counter a person’s right to express their opinions and thoughts. Regardless of what someone believes, everyone deserves their say—without being forced to the carpet for it.
Any sanctions for expressing one’s personal opinions should come naturally. If a CEO of a major corporation says something offensive to a particular group, then people have a right not to purchase what that firm produces as a natural consequence. If you don’t like what you read here, you have every right to leave a response with something more reasonable to say as a counter to the postings...or you can ignore it altogether and leave. But contacting my employer and telling him that I should be fired for offending your “sensitivities” is not a valid, or even a civilized response. Such actions prevent the free exchange of ideas and thoughts, which is how policies and laws are formed. It is also how we evolve overall as a species.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Obamacare & The Lack of Loyal (Or Smart) Opposition


I have been, and always will be a proponent of the idea that health care should not be a marketable commodity, but a basic right in the same vein as a compulsory public education. Opponents of this notion seem to be missing a clear view of the Big Picture. Sure, it would be nice if we could live in a society where people were allowed to “decide for themselves” to forgo necessary services like health care insurance without tangible repercussions—the ostensible argument made by universal health care opponents. But allowing individuals the “freedom” to make decisions that on the surface don’t seem capable of affecting others flies in the face of sound fiscal economics. For instance, allowing individuals the right to drop out of school will invariably cost society more in the long run. Study after study points to a lack of basic education (opportunities) tends to result increased chances of becoming reliant of welfare, fewer job prospects, and higher probabilities of being incarcerated—all of which have a burdensome economic impact on society as a whole.
The uninsured tend to cost everyone—insured and uninsured alike—more in the long run due to their propensity to allow minor health concerns to evolve into major health issues, their lack of engaging in preventative health care regimes, and the higher cost they incur for later attending of health care concerns—all of which resulting in higher costs for health-related services, insurance premiums, and percentage of government’s part subsidizing these increased costs.
President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) was the first major attempt in decades to provide a sizable chunk of uninsured Americans a modicum of health care coverage, and address this financially unsustainable health care regime. As radical an idea as it is, Obamacare is something of a compromise; it leverages aspects of the open market to attempt to increase coverage for more Americans while avoiding the stigma of “socialism” inherent in the European model of a single-payer plan—despite passing the initiative with a “supermajority” of Democrats in Congress. Naysayers' predictable doom and gloom for the ACA from the start. Supporters reluctantly embraced the hope that the ACA would be a welcome alternative to unaffordability and arbitrary rejection for those with preexisting conditions (which the ACA prohibited). But let’s just say it…Obamacare (as it had been dubbed) seems to be headed due south in the popularity department. And the issues regarding the government-sponsored online insurance sign-up registry hasn’t helped its likability.
And while I certainly don’t need the likes of Sarah Palin to inform me that Obamacare doesn’t seem to be finding its successful footing, the fact she manages to continue to secure airtime in her attempt to maintain political relevancy says a lot about why we in America cannot provide a serious application to revamp health care affordability. Sure, Palin and her ilk love to chant “get rid of Obamacare,” but when asked to provide an alternative to doing so, the crickets take over. We got a chance to witness this reality last week on NBC’s Today show when host Matt Lauer allowed Palin to once again-seemingly successfully I might add—hit the snooze button on her 15 minutes of fame. Predictably, Palin engaged in so many oppositional talking points that the “interview” (for want of a better term) seemed like two people in the same room having 2 different conversations at times (watch below).
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Palin’s positions lacked substance, suggestions, or anything beyond the assertion that Obamacare was in fact an exercise “socialism” that was worthy of shutting down the government in an effort to repeal the new law. As Lauer struggled to get Palin to nail down a less ambiguous alternative to addressing the unaffordability of health care insurance, Palin responded with more talking points and counter policy ambiguities. It was like listening to a child explain why cooties are bad…totally unable to define what they are, but speak a great deal as to why they are “bad.” And this exchange is a testament as to why health insurance affordability and/or coverage will always be an issue that probably won’t be addressed substantively any time soon.—the lack of loyal opposition to what we have now.
What passes for opposition to the ACA currently is nothing more than vague references to “socialism,” and how bad it is. There are no alternatives coming from the opposition. The 1 or 2 there are involve nothing “tax credits” and “other suggestions offered by Republicans” that fail to address the issue at heart. Anything remotely tied to the old, outdated system of employer-based health insurance—when our service-based economy doesn’t pay the average worker enough to afford getting sick, yet alone paying for any hospitalization—isn’t going to work…tax credits notwithstanding. Allowing “job creators” to maintain the freedom to decide who they will cover and who they will not doesn’t allow for “spreading risks” needed to lower costs. And allowing self-serving dullards like Palin, who have nothing more to contribute to the discourse other than vagueness, ambiguities, and ideological talking points that don’t amount to anything more than ramblings of political opportunists who profess to “love America” doesn’t do anything other than continue to entrench our country in political fragmentation.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Will The Real Tea Party Please Stand Up...?

Note:  Apologies to those who are regular readers to BTPS.  I have been working on a few projects to be published soon.  Needless to say that these projects have kept me noticeably absent from regular blogging. However, I promise that I will soon be back to full-blogging strength here and on my various other blogs.

When you’re dead, you don’t actually know you’re dead; it just affects those around you. Being a political extremist in America is a lot like being dead; you don’t know you’re an extremist, but it affects those around you just the same. One of two major differences between the two realities is that the dead cannot convince themselves that they are dead—as they are absent of consciousness—while those who make their intellectual homes with the margins of political fringe thinking can routinely convince themselves that they are “true patriots” or “real Americans.” The rest of us apparently are self-delusional, intellectual dullards who took the blue pill.
Now that Congress has successfully kicked the budget can down the road until early next year, it should become apparent that this is the reality of the state of politics within our government. Egged-on by the “real Americans” known as the Tea Party, favorite party son, Senator Ted Cruz of Florida led a doomed-from-the-start effort to tie creating a federal budget deal to continue to run the government’s day-to-day business with his (and the Tea Party’s) disdain for President Obama’s signature health care reform law, hoping to get the last defunded—or revoked entirely. Ostensibly, this effort on the part of Cruz to revoke funding for the health care law was to trim the budget and curtail federal spending by the government. If it were the true motive, it would indeed be laudable. However (and at the risk of painting all Tea Party-backed


                     Florida Republican Senator (and Tea Party favorite) Ted Cruz

Congressmen with a broad paintbrush), most of the grandstanding on the part of Cruz and his Congressional cohorts was mostly political, a transparent effort to garner favor with the “real Americans” back in their home districts (although I will concede the benefit of the doubt and grant that not every member of the Tea Party caucus in Congress are as self-interests-driven as Cruz and the other “patriots”). Needless to say, despite being cheered on by supporters, the effort failed miserably. In fact, this effort on Cruz and the Tea Party’s part to avoid compromising on any budget proposal in exchange revoking funding for Obama’s (bad attempt to reform) health care failed to not only trim government spending, but the resulting government shutdown cost the country some $24 billion in lost economic output according to the Standard and Poor’s ratings agency (see: “How Much Did the Shutdown Cost The Economy?”). Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist called

Cruz and his allies as “defund terrorists.” Norquist previously slammed those who tried to use the government shutdown to roll back the Affordable Care Act by saying, “They hurt the conservative movement, they hurt people’s health care, they hurt the country’s economic situation and they hurt the Republican Party” (“Grover Norquist Slams Ted Cruz”).

Already, Cruz and many within the Tea party have attributed the failure of the effort to defund Obamacare and the lack of any tangible results—at least by their standards—to “turncoat” mainstream Republicans who dared to strike a compromise rather than support the Tea party’s failed effort. Of course it would never cross their minds of Cruz and the Tea Party that they represent an extreme point of view, that they lack general support because of this, or that they are on the fringes of political ideology…it’s the rest of us. It's what they "see," not how they see it that's at fault.  Of course!
Part of their philosophy (and political strategy) is to "prove" how “overstated” forced spending cuts like those from the sequester from earlier this year, the shutdown from 2 weeks ago, and failure to raise the deficit ceiling is, and that such sudden spending halts would be more beneficial to the nation’s fiscal solvency than the harm that almost every reputable economist has projected.  But to Tea Partiers, the more level-headed among the rest of us are either “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only), “liberals,” “brainwashed by the media,” or “socialists.” Their mantra is simply to “stop government spending,” with no hint or reasonable suggestion as to how.
A proposed Balanced Budget Amendment wouldn’t work simply because inflexible requirements to spend within a budgetary limit every year are not realistic—they do not account for cycles of economic boom and bust and the need to readjust spending to compensate. And inserting provisions to allow for exceeding budget spending limits based on exigent circumstances wouldn’t work because—as we have seen—the two major parties can’t even agree on what day of the week it is, yet along be expected to compromise on major spending issues such as what defines extenuating circumstances that calls for more (or less) spending.
All-out cutting much needed programs would harm those who need them (although I will admit that some programs are surely riddled with costly lack of oversight and (as a result) abuse.  And besides that, austerity spending measures worked so "well" in Europe... (sarcasm alert).
Reforming entitlements is a good start, but let’s face it…neither party wants to give up any sacred cows that might cost their membership(or their party) an election or legislative control. What will work? Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers, but holding policymaking hostage to ideological demands, and basing policy on ideology rather than the reality of need and pragmatism is definitely not the way.  However, the most logical start to balancing the budget would be a combination of taxes and hard-choice spending cuts (which includes accounting for every paperclip or errant piece of paper if necessary).
The Tea Party has proven itself capable of exerting political pressure, getting their favorite elected officials to office, and organizing itself into a formidable political force. But its extremist views and rigid adherence to ideology (rather than reality) does not benefit all Americans (deny if you will, but it’s the truth). This organized group counts among its membership (and supports) the most intolerant and xenophobic of Americans. Those who have kept up with their various marches, rallies, and public protests have seen the pictures and heard the quotes—they are present at almost every numerically significant Tea Party rally (I provided a few in the event that denies attempt to portray these appearances as aberrations with the organization).
Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch (a conservative political advocacy group) and Tea Party ally during the government shutdown. According to Klayman, American is "ruled by a president who bows down to Allah," and "is not a president of 'we the people.'" "I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out" (see: “Larry Klayman Defends Obama-Islam Link”). 

Its funny how being dead and being a political extremist in America seem to have some things in common. The other major difference between the two is that it seems to be easier to convince of a dead person of their station in life than to convince one of these so-called “real Americans” that they are not purveyors of true American ideas, but are obstructionists who could refocus their goals and energy on something that could benefit all Americans, and not just those who they deem as “real Americans”—their rhetoric about “personal rights” notwithstanding.

Tea Party supporter and protester Michael Ashmore stands in front of the White House recently during the Congressional breakdown in budget talks and the attempt to defund Obamacare by Senator Ted Cruz the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Opinion: "I'm So Sick of "Crazy" People!"

I have a big problem with individuals with a past history of some sort of mental illness—diagnosed or otherwise—committing mass shootings or other crimes involving mass casualties. More to the point, it’s mass shootings involving “troubled individuals” that causes me to lose my objectivity and riles my dander.
In many cases, such “troubled” individuals seem to have an innate urge to inflict mass casualties on the youngest, most vulnerable of us—children or adults gathered public places such as schools, houses of worship, or other centers of public accommodation. Yesterday, another such instance was averted in Decatur, Georgia. During the incident, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill walked into the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy with an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons. Hill held staff members in the front office captive, all the while terrorizing the campus by firing his rifle into the air and at arriving police officers. One of the captives, a bookkeeper talked Hill down from what by all indications was his attempt to commit a mass casualty shooting at the school. He eventually gave himself up before going through with his telegraphed intent (See: “Michael Brandon Hill, Accused Georgia School Gunman, Threatened to Kill Brother, Police Say”).

Would-be school shooter and mass-murderer Michael Brandon Hill Booking Photo

During the time he held the staff captive, Hill indicated that he had wanted to die, and that he “was sorry for what he was doing.” And of course, it was revealed after Hill’s arrest that he had past issues of “mental issues.” I take umbrage with the issue of “mental issues” being the cause of such offenses. I simply refuse to believe that such individuals are not “crazy” as such. They have enough presence of mind to know that attacking children would tug at the heartstrings of most Americans in the worst way. They seem to have a sense that hurting innocent children (or innocent adults) inflicts emotional pain, outrage, and grief on their loved ones, and pretty much garners the nation’s attention. 
I would submit that this need to attention, even infamy, speaks to a reality that such individuals are not so divorced from reality or even lucid thinking that they are not aware of their actions.
We have become a nation mental and emotional hypochondriacs, ever-ready to blame our deep-seated unresolved emotional and mental/”mental” issues on whatever malady gives us a pass to excuse our own negative behaviors.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I can recall a time when people would embrace denial about mental and emotional issues that only slightly impaired their social functionality and ability to interact; most would do anything to avoid such labels (and their social implications). But somewhere along the line, we lowered our aversion to being stigmatized by mental/emotional impairments. It’s now gotten to the point where we as a nation are hair-trigger quick to use such impairments as an excuse for our lack of self-restraint and discipline. I can recall once during my years as a long-term substitute teachers working with at-risk (read: “mentally/emotionally-impaired”) youth where one such labeled student told me, “You can’t make me do that…I’m ‘Special Ed.’”
I would think that those with true debilitating mental and emotional issues would be offended by so many claiming to be so “impaired.” It’s like when a persistent man enamored with a woman pursues her for a date; many so pursued women will threaten legal action for being “stalked.” Labeling every infatuated man looking for a date as a “stalker” weakens the impact and legitimacy of the offense. It’s the same with calling every personal issue a debilitating “emotional-” or “mental issue;” it weakens the legitimacy of those who suffer from true mental impairment.
I’ve seen kids and adults with supposed “anger-management issues,” who “take drugs for my issues” manage to control those same supposed “issues” when confronted with truly angry individuals who have no scruples about teaching them their place on the social pecking order. It’s both laughable and quite annoying at the same time.
Bradley Manning, the former army soldier who was sentenced yesterday to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military information to the online whistleblower site, WikiLakes, asserted his "gender-identity issues" as a contributing factor for his actions.
In 2005, an armed federal air marshal shot and killed a man on an airplane in Miami because he had claimed to "have a bomb in his carry-on backpack," while running up and down the aisle of the airplane frantically. Despite his history of "bi-polar" issues (as revealed by family members), he had enough of a grasp on reality to know that saying "bomb" on an airplane in a post 9/11, still-alarmed America would garner a response of panic among those on board.
We truly need to stop allowing people to use supposed “mental” and “emotional” issues as an excuse for engaging in behavior which is fully within their ability to control. We tend to criticize those with self-restraint and discipline as being “uptight” and/or “prudish.” But there is a great deal we can learn from such individuals, such as self-control and personal responsibility for one's own actions.
There is “crazy” and there is crazy. What Michael Hill did Tuesday was not “crazy;” it was a calculated action, despite his history of bi-polar issues. “Crazy” would be Hill or some other “disturbed” individual walking onto a military base or inside a police station full of armed and trained men more than willing to shoot back if threatened in the same manner school children occasionally are.
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