Category: Issues


As 2016 wound to a close, and we look ahead to the transition of the presidency and governing powers in Congress, I think it’s wise to see what the successors of the past 8 years are inheriting.

First, remember that in 2008, the financial crisis had already begun in 2007 with the subprime mortgage crisis. The stock market took a dive, unemployment soared, and the stimulus package was already signed into law as Obama took office.

Through various policies and challenges, the government attempted to right the proverbial ship. While recovery was not as fast as many would have liked (and there were some obstructionist factors for this), the economy has recovered. Let’s look at some data.

stock-market

Above, you can see the great dip in 2008, and then see it’s massive and constant recovery through 2016. One would think that the DJ would be at least one indicator of a stronger economy, right? (This probably has something to do with the massive wealth inequality, but aren’t the rich–who are benefitting from the markets–supposed to trickle down their ducats?)

unemployment

Meanwhile, unemployment has steadily gone down on a similar, inverse trajectory. Again, another seemingly no-brainer as an indicator of the improvement of the economy over the past 8 years. Now I’m sure some out there argue that these numbers are meaningless (ignoring the fact that it’s used by investors to gauge the economy’s health, or it only seems to matter when it’s high so detractors can hypocritically blame the president for a weak economy), so let’s look at their favorite statistic when unemployment is low: Labor Participation.

labor-participation

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Here we can see a few things right off the bat. First, the people not participating in the labor market (for whatever reason) has gone down, particularly since the late 1990s, but continued to do so throughout the last 8 years. Second, labor participation is still higher than it’s been since the mid-1970’s. Third, even as participation has shrunk since, say 2008, it has only done so by about 3%. But man, to hear some of Obama’s detractors’ put it, that 3% is just devastating and proof that the economy is failing.

So what’s behind these numbers? Someone has done a more detailed analysis than me (and by someone, I mean various analysts and the Congressional Budget Office). About half of that 3% comes from a sharp increase in those retiring out of the work force (i.e. Baby Boomers–see the chart below). Another 1% is related to temporary factors that are part of the business cycle. That leaves about 0.5% that is accounted for by “unusual aspects of the slow recovery that led workers to become discouraged and permanently drop out of the labor force.” Yup, a whole 1/2 of a percentage point. Seems a lot less impressive when one actually digs into the data, eh?

retirees

See that steep uptick at the end? Them’s retiring folk not participating in the labor market anymore.

Finally, some folks misrepresented Obama’s concerns about automation acting as a factor that was slowing the recovery of the economy. Well, remember those jobs that Trump “saved” at Carrier? The investment to keep the company competitive (and out of Mexico) is going to be for…automated robots to replace human workers.

Ok, enough about the economy. What about all that “out-of-control” violence spuriously tweeted by Trump?

violent-crime

Source: FBI crime statistics.

Well, 2015 and 2016 did see an increase in violent crime, in part because by 2014, such crime was at historic lows for the last 44 years! Perspective is an interesting thing, right? Further, while the murder rate has gone up in some major cities overall, much of that percentage increase is attributed to 10–or 3–cities with more drastic increases (outliers spike averages).

Remember when some folks were worried that Obama would come and take our guns (as late as 2015 and 2016? Shockingly, that didn’t happen. What did happen was continued gun violence, crime, and theft by other citizens. That’s right, the government isn’t taking our guns away, our neighbors are.

How about the Affordable Healthcare Act? (Also known as “Obamacare”). Health insurance premiums are going up, so it must be repealed (so the main part of the argument goes). While that’s true, premium growth has been slower under Obama than his predecessor. Sure there’s problems with it, but fundamentally people agree with many of its premises, particularly in those states that went red and are soon in danger of losing their coverage (and some are realizing that danger).

president-obama

While there were, in fact, several things I was disappointed with over the past 8 years (some foreign policy issues, Eric Holder’s failure to hold anyone accountable for the banking crisis, etc.), overall, I think history will judge President Obama to be a successful, thoughtful, and intelligent president. His farewell speech was poignant, and his two terms were scandal free.

Trump has some mighty big shoes to fill, and I daresay he is not up to the challenge.

 

 

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The Right to Bear Opinions

Back by non-popular demand, I thought I would weigh in on the “gun debate” issue that has taken just-right of center stage (slightly nudged by Kate Middleton’s impending pregnancy).

I didn’t think I’d be writing on another political “debate,” but once again, I just can’t let certain arguments slide by without comment. Without further ado…

“It’s my Constitutional right! The Second Amendment gives me the right to bear arms!”

This is an odd argument, especially since it’s aimed at opponents that don’t exist. No one is saying that Americans shouldn’t own guns. There is, however, a large consensus that more regulation of those arms is needed (particularly regarding background checks), though support for this is falling since we Americans have such a short attention span.

It's for hunting! I mean self-defense! I swear!

It’s for hunting! I mean self-defense! I swear!

Regulation of our rights is nothing new, and often it’s a good idea. For example, we have the Right to Free Speech, but certain utterances are still illegal, and with good reason. We can’t go around threatening specific people with violence, or slander or neighbors with impunity. More on point, private citizens can’t (easily) own certain military-grade weapons (like machine guns or rocket-propelled grenades), and nearly all sane citizens are okay with that.

Now some folks want regulations on automatic weapons (ranging from background checks to caps on the maximum size of ammunition clips). The desire is that such regulations will help reduce the number of mass shootings like that which occurred at Sandy Hook. Again, there is no unlimited right to anything in the first 10 Amendments—all of them have regulations of some sort, and the gun regulations fall well within that scope. [Whether or not these efforts will succeed in their goals is a different matter; I’m only looking at the validity of the arguments against such regulations].

Finally, the Second Amendment does give us the right to bear arms—specifically within the context of a “well-regulated militia.” Some people like to gloss over this clause, others try to argue it away. Experts have looked into when this specific language was used during the time period and found how it relates to military matters (i.e. militias), and not private/individual liberties per se.

Regardless of the actual language of the Constitution, in DC vs. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership is not limited to militia—it applies to the individual. I find it hypocritical that many of the same folks who don’t want the Court “legislating from the bench” about whether or not citizens should have access to health care (you know, so they can live), did not lodge the same complaints when the Court made this ruling, which directly references language in the Constitution.

“We need our guns to fight potential government tyranny!”

I hate to break it to these doomsayers, but if there was a violent revolution, the decreased capacity between a 10 round and 15 round magazine isn’t going to make much of a difference to those facing off against the most powerful military industrial complex in the world (which would be brought to bear). There would be plenty of other considerations and scenarios that would necessarily have to play out for such revolutionaries to be successful (I won’t go into them). And by that time, I don’t think anyone would be paying too much attention to background checks or following the letter of the law.

“If they take away my AR-15s, what’s next? They’re going to take all our guns away!”

This is called an Abuse of a Slippery Slope argument, and it’s inherently invalid. Even more than being a fallacy at face value, this one actually has a counter-example as evidence against it. Back in 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed, which did many of the same things they’re currently considering these days. Certain specific weapons were banned, as were other weapons with a number of specific features common to such weapons; large-capacity magazines were also prohibited. Shockingly, we lived with this ban for 10 years and no other weapons were “taken away”!

“We’d all be safer if there was less regulation on guns (i.e. more people had them). Perpetrators of mass shootings would be stopped because intended “victims” could fight back and shoot them.”

This came up again just after the Aurora theatre shooting, and it would be laughable if the circumstances weren’t so tragic. In this situation, a man dressed in tactical gear (gas mask, ballistic helmet, and other bullet-resistant clothing) entered the theatre, threw 2 canisters of gas (smoke and/or tear), and began shooting with a variety of weapons. Even if some of those in the theatre had weapons, shooting at this man in a darkened room full of panicked patrons, with gas and chemicals further obstructing peoples’ vision via smoke and watering eyes, would not have resulted in stopping him. Most likely, it would have resulted in more civilian casualties. But why think critically through scenarios when we can just make unsubstantiated statements?

Nor would more people carrying guns in general create a safer environment. Just owning a gun makes it almost 3 times as likely that one of those family members will be killed by another family member or intimate acquaintance. Domestic violence in households where a gun is owned increases the chances that a woman will be killed by more than three times as non-gun owning households. And there are some 10 times more deaths caused by handguns than by long guns (rifles and shotguns)—and the former aren’t even being regulated for the most part.

So no, more guns doesn’t equate with a safer population.

In summary, I don’t think the right to bear arms is an inviolable right. I think it can and should be regulated with thoughtful and efficient laws (that alone is a near-insurmountable task when dealing with Congress). I think there should be background checks, if only to rule out those most likely to use guns in criminal acts. But I also think it’s going to take a lot more than a few laws to change our violent culture which is only exacerbated by the plentiful supply and easy access to firearms.

The “debates.”

I normally refrain from watching the presidential “debates” since they aren’t really debates at all.  Instead, they’re more like “soap boxes to repeat your attacks and soundbites in a televised medium.”  But that clearly isn’t a very catchy title.

But, having seen highlights of the last debate where President Obama looked less than impressive, I was curious to see how his expert advisers had coached him and what changes they would make, so I tuned in a bit after 9 pm.  I was greeted with a belligerent Romney telling the President to “sit down” because he wasn’t finished and he had not directed a question at the incumbent.  Then, when it was finally Obama’s turn to talk, Romney kept pestering and interrupting him with the refrain “have you looked at your pension Mr. President?”  It reminded me of my 3 year old daughter saying “daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy.”  Only 10 fold more disrespectful.

It was at this point I turned the debates off.  I quickly came to the conclusion that watching them would tempt the Loki of the bodhisattva pantheon to disrupt my inner Zen which I normally have rocking. (Note to wife: stop snickering).

A while later (about 45 minutes, coincidentally the length of an episode of Castle), I turned back to the debates to see how things were shaping up.  I was greeted with Romney bullying the moderator, ignoring her directions, and smirking his smarmy smile.  Feeling a resurgent ulcer creeping up, I turned it off again for the final time.

Now, from the reports I’ve read and highlight reels I’ve seen, I know there was some aggressiveness on both their parts, and, as usual, fact distortion from both sides (plenty of sources confirm this).  My two happenstance viewings were probably just some skewing of random chance that zeroed in on Romney’s moments.  But I can’t help but think that my views of these “debates” have been reinforced.  They entrench our candidate preferences, and if you’re undecided, they might not do much to sway you if both participants spew half-truths, ignore the rules and some modicum of civility, or dance around the questions asked.

Especially this guy.

Oh, and when entertainment celebrities weigh in, I still don’t care what they think.

I do find it sad that our political discourse has devolved into name calling, alpha-male posturing, pandering, and a confusion about what is true.  I’m glad President Obama stepped up and called Romney out, and I think it is appropriate for Romney to challenge the President on policies where he has been weak.  But the polemic style of our polarized politics needs to change, and the people need to demand it.  Until we do, Washington (all the branches) will continue to deliver the same lackluster performance it has for many years.

P.S. I owe a big thank you to Mr. Romney and President Obama for providing me with enough angst to get out of my recent hiatus from my more meaty blogging.

As you may have heard, the results of  John Edwards’ campaign finance trial was a ‘not guilty’ on one charge and  a mistrial on the other five due to the inability of the jury to come to a unanimous decision on a verdict.

In case you don’t know the timeline, here’s a summary:

  • 2006: Edwards begins an affair with Rielle Hunter, a filmmaker working on his presidential campaign while his wife battled cancer.  He covers up the affair (to the tune of $1 million) with money received from a donor during the presidential campaign.
  • March 2007: Elizabeth Edwards announces that her breast cancer had returned.
  • October 2007: Allegations are printed that Edwards was having an affair with Hunter.
  • February 2008: Hunter gives birth to a baby girl Quinn.
  • July 2008: Allegations are printed that Edwards is the father.
  • August 2008: Edwards admitted to the affair, but denied he was the father of Hunter’s baby Quinn.
  • January 2010: Edwards admits he was indeed the father of Quinn.  Edwards’ wife Elizabeth legally separates from him.
  • December 2010: Elizabeth dies of terminal breast cancer.
  • April 2012: Trial begins to determine if Edwards was in violation of campaign finance law for using funds to cover up his affair.
  • May 2012: The aforementioned verdict is reached.

Let’s take a look at some of Edwards’ statements during this whole sordid affair.

August 8, 2008: “In 2006…I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough.”

First, calling it a “liaison” doesn’t make it less offensive—sometimes semantics just makes you seem like a bigger scumbag.  Secondly, “being 99% honest” isn’t being honest—that’s withholding information which is…wait for it…dishonest.  (Oh, and you weren’t “honest in every detail” since you didn’t tell them that Quinn was your kid, that admission came 2 years later).

August, 2008: “I know that it’s not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events, so I know it’s not possible”
I think I’ve heard a similar story before:

And mother always told me be careful of who you love
And be careful of what you do
’cause the lie becomes the truth
Billie Jean is not my lover
She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one
But the kid is not my son
She says I am the one, but the kid is not my son

But, more substantively, let’s take a look at parts of his speech after the verdict in his trial had been reached.

“Firstly, I want to thank the jurors and their incredibly hard work and diligence. They took their job very seriously.”

You have no idea what went on behind closed doors; he begins his speech with some good old pandering.

“Thank goodness we live in a country that has the system we have, it is an exemplar of what juries are supposed to do.”

Notice he doesn’t say the system serves justice, it’s just the system “that we have.”  Which, of course, as a trial lawyer, he knows is quite susceptible to courtroom manipulation, appeals to emotion, and other ways to find loopholes and technicalities.  (Now I’m not saying that these did happen in this case, especially given the twisty rules of the FEC for campaign finance reform.  Indeed, neither side could present a clear-cut case of whether violations occurred because of a variety of factors, including the esoteric nature of the laws and a lack of key witnesses, partially thanks to the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  I’m just saying the whole thing smells funky.)

“No one else is responsible for my sins. I am responsible. If I want to find the person responsible for my sins, I don’t have to go further than a mirror, it was me and me alone.” 

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

By calling them “sins,” he neatly avoids any criminal/legal entanglements.  We can only prosecute “crimes,” we can sin all we want as long as those sins don’t happen to also be crimes as defined by our legal system.  (Which is partly why a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, but I digress…don’t worry, that post is coming soon).

“My precious Quinn, [6 second pause] who I love more than any of you can ever imagine, who I am so close to, so, so grateful for.”

Considering you basically denied her existence as your offspring, I think we can imagine how much you love her pretty accurately.  Plus, quit trying to manipulate your viewers with this sham show of emotion with a staged pause and “choke up.”  By denying your child’s existence and then blubbering out some love clichés after a mistrial, your credibility is as shredded as the “fair and balanced” claim by Fox News.

“You saw her bathing on the roof…”

“I don’t think God is through with me. I think he believes there are still some things I can do.”

Not that I can claim to know the mind of God, but I don’t think “he” has any grand plans for a lying adulterer. (Unless, you know, your name is David or something).  And, given the treatment of most non-king adulterers by God in the Bible, I’m not so sure you should be so optimistic about the outcome of those things.

“I want to dedicate my life to being the best dad I can be and to helping those kids who I think deserve help.”

Well, admitting you’re the dad is a good first step.  And I hope your judgment about what kids need help is a bit better than you’ve shown in the past.

So why did I spend all this time on a fallen politico? Because I think it simultaneously shows the flaws in our justice system, campaign finance laws, and our political system in general.

Is Edwards guilty of a crime?

Maybe.

Is he a douche bag?

Absolutely.

Hopefully, the latter verdict will follow him around for the rest of his life.

War with the Newts

No, not the one by Karel Čapek, but the one going on in the Republican primaries.

As the weeks of dueling sound bites and one-upmanship ground on, there were some comical moments.   Whether it was Romney worrying about pink slips, Gingrich’s excessive patriotism that led to his slips in his marital vows, or Santorum’s slip that overloading the planet with greenhouse gasses is good for the plants.

But, sometimes, a candidate gets on the phone with NPR and thinks he can bluff his way through the interview, dodging questions and the like.

Enter Newt Gingrich earlier this week.

Inskeep asked Gingrich if he thought he should pull out since the former Speaker offered just that advice back in 1996 to those running behind the front runner.  Newt’s response?  Well he has no incentive to get out because he “cares about the future of the party.”  Apparently, those in 1996 didn’t care enough.

Then Inskeep asked Newt if his criticisms of the President and global oil prices were valid. Gingrich says of course they’re valid because of simple supply and demand–drill more domestically (and don’t “bait Saudi Arabia to pump more”) and the prices will drop.  Inskeep countered with the facts that under Obama, domestic production has gone up and we import less foreign oil than we have in a decade (the opposite trends under the previous administration), and yet the prices are not dropping.  Newt counters that all that new supply is due to private enterprises, not Obama, and that the U.S. could be the world’s leading oil producer.  Never mind that 1) supply is supply, and where it comes from would be irrelevant to driving down global prices (if that’s all it took), and 2) the U.S. simply is not sitting on enough oil to become the largest producer.  Both are factually wrong and show how fallacious his argument about gas prices is.

Some of Gingrich’s other statements also reveal what is so wrong with the direction of our politics.  Following up on the gas prices question, Inskeep asks the former Speaker if the price of oil (and thus gas) isn’t really related to the tensions and conflicts in the Middle East.  Newt responds: ” But there wouldn’t have to be tensions in the Middle East if we were deliberately producing enough oil that we didn’t care about the Middle East.”  So we really are fighting for oil over there, not freedom, democracy, or any other high-brow motivation.  Unfortunately, I’m quite sure that this is mostly true.

Earlier, citing Gingrich’s only hope as preventing Romney from getting a majority, Newt’s response was: “And it’s also clear that Governor Romney has so much money that he can grind his way towards the nomination, despite all that.”  So, in other words, elections aren’t really about ideas, character, or who is the best candidate.  They’re mostly about who has enough money to grind his opponents into dust.  Again, that is mostly true and why we’re in desperate need of campaign finance reform.

But, of course, Newt’s spurious logic is not confined to phone calls to NPR.

Also earlier this week, Robert De Niro–that overrated actor–made a joke about the country not being ready for a white first lady should one of the Republicans win.  Newt demanded that President Obama apologize for De Niro because it was said at a fundraiser for the President.

Bawhaaaaa?!?!

Newt went on to clarify that if the “left want to talk about talk show hosts,” then “everyone in the country ought to hold the President accountable” when someone at his event says something.

Bawhaaaa?!?!?!

So in Newt’s “mind,” a person on a national forum saying something degrading about a woman is as culpable as a fundraising host because the latter’s guest said something obviously satirical.  Yup, that almost makes sense…in a Čapek novel!

Of course, Newt doesn’t have the monopoly on spurious logic or even living as if he’s in a fictional world.

Take Rick Santorum.

Apparently the “defender of Homeland Security via denying gays the right to marriage” thinks Obama should not allow his daughter to go to Mexico for spring break because the State Department issued warnings for other parts of the country.  Santorum goes on to say that the President “is not above the law.”  Which is a fair point.  Except of course, that a State Department warning is not a law, especially when the warning is not relevant to that part of the country being visited.

But hey, why let facts get in the way of rhetoric?  I mean, voters do fall for this nonsense all the time.

Sorry for the cynical week-ender, but sometimes our broken political system just proves to be too ludicrous for me to ignore.

I consider myself a reasonable rational person, and I’d like to think I have an open mind about most things.  So when opposing views are discussed, I am quite happy to hear what the “other” side has to say and then, if I have the knowledge and inclination to do so, rebut their claims with evidence, facts, and context as needed.

Apparently, this is not the case for some other folks.  Some people think that presenting their side of an argument is sufficient to “win” the debate (in their mind), regardless of how spurious their logic is, how fallacious their arguments are, and how out-of-context their evidence might be.

Case in point:

I came across this gem on Facebook and, after some very easy fact-checking, it became obvious what a joke the implication of this Post-It note was.  (The premises being: a) gas prices were low when President Obama took office; b) gas prices are high now; therefore 1) it’s President Obama’s fault and 2) you shouldn’t vote for him because of this).

First, some context:

A) Prices of oil and gas were indeed low in January of 2009 after having grown steadily since 2001 (when George W. Bush became president), though they actually declined a bit and then hit a plateau until 2003.

Remember what happened in 2003?  That’s right, the Bush administration pushed for war in Iraq based on faulty and cherry-picked intelligence, while continuing operations in Afghanistan.  Oil (and thus gas) prices continued to increase until July of 2008, right before the U.S. stock market crash.  (There is ample evidence that speculation on the price of oil led to a bubble of sorts which facilitated and contributed to the crash.  In other words, financiers were looking to continue making money in oil on the backs of thousands of dead soldiers and civilians.)

So the market crashes, sending everything plummeting (including the price of oil), just before the inauguration of President Obama (who inherited the recession which had already started before his term).

B) Since then, as the market has slowly recovered (and oil demand returned), the price of oil (and gas) has gone back up.  Nothing really surprising in that now, is there?

See? Context matters.

As for the conclusions asserted by Mr. Post-It:

1) First, no President has any direct control over the price of gas (which is derived from the price of crude).  Why? It’s a global commodity, largely influenced by OPEC, a conglomerate made up of countries in the region where we’ve been waging war for 10 years.  If they want more money for their oil, they withhold production of crude and the price goes up (they sit on 40% of global oil production and most of the world’s reserves).

And, as you may know, the U.S. doesn’t even get most of our oil from the Middle East; our top four imports are from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela.  But, since it’s a global market for oil, we don’t catch a price break from our neighbors because they, like any other smart business entity, are telling us to “show them the money.”  Getting most of our oil from outside OPEC is more of a political move than an economic one.

Well, I guess this guy would.

Certainly the U.S. president (and his administration) can indirectly affect the price of oil (and gas).  For example, say the U.S. unilaterally invades a nation against the better judgment of the international community.  And say that invasion is based on false premises sold to a panicked citizenry.  And let’s say tax cuts are offered as a vapid olive branch to the citizens which consequently removes more money from the nation’s coffers to actually pay for the war.  Sure, those things could have a detrimental effect on the price of oil (indirectly through antagonizing OPEC) and directly on our economy.  But I mean, who would do such a thing, right?

2) So is any of the offered premises and conclusions a reason to not vote for President Obama?  I’ll leave that to you to decide, now that you have all the relevant facts and context.  But let me leave you with a few other changes that have occurred since January 2009.

* Gays and lesbians were not allowed to serve openly in the military, but now they can.

* Struggling young people can stay on their parent’s health plans longer until they get on their feet.

* Seniors pay less for prescriptions thanks to the closing of a loop hole in Medicare.

* He issued the kill order to end Osama bin Laden’s threat to the United States.

* We are no longer at war in Iraq.

* Workers with student loan debt (which has surpassed credit card debt in this country) can now have that debt forgiven after 10 years of making payments and working in public service, a traditionally low-paying and unselfish career choice.  If you pay for 20 years in any other field, the loan will also be forgiven (because paying 35 years for a 4 year education is ridiculous).

I would say that the above “changes” certainly provided “hope” for all those involved (FYI, that’s like millions of citizens).

So for all you folks out there who think you’re presenting your side of the story and hoping for an objective analysis of the situation, that’s not how “objectivity” works.

Objectivity requires full disclosure of the facts in order for them to be, you know, objective.  Leaving out information provides a set of subjective premises and leads to a subjectively biased observation (and consequently skewed conclusion).  Of course, if you don’t actually want to have an open and honest dialogue about something, then presenting only one side of an issue (and doggedly refusing to see the other) will certainly reinforce your own narrow world-view (and certainly, this is much easier to do anonymously or, you know, on the Internet).

But it won’t win you any real victories in a debate.

I wasn’t going to blog about the Republican primary season, mostly because I won’t be participating since I’m not a member of that party (or any other party—I know, you’re shocked, right?).  But, as usual, the media circus and sheer absurdity of it all has forced my hand.

(As I’m pretty hopped up after watching more corporate greed in the movie Gasland and listening to the coverage of the Arizona and Michigan primaries on the way home, you’ll have to forgive my unusual lack of decorum).

I’d like to address the most fallacious talking points that have been swarming around lately, and have all the “pundits” or “wonks” abuzz.

We drive a couple of caddies with our NASCAR team owner friends!

 1.  Mitt Romney can’t relate to the common man because he’s rich. 

Yeah, no shit; show me a presidential (or congressional) candidate that isn’t rich, and I’ll muster some shock for ya.  In our political system, money is power and it has been proven time and time again—this race is no different (in fact, it’ll be worse given Citizens v. United).

We don’t want a “common man” for president—that’s why you or your neighbor ain’t running for the office.  The common man is generally unaware, unsophisticated, and ignorant about politics, world events, and other issues important to, you know, governing the United States of America.  I say this without rancor or prejudice (well, mostly), and I’m well aware that I am included in the “great unwashed masses” that I just described.

He needs to stop pretending otherwise if he wants to actually seem sincere, because his constant faux pas are embarrassing and insipid.

2.  If Mitt Romney didn’t win Michigan (his “home state”), then that’s would have been a near insurmountable embarrassment and the Republican Party will have to scramble and figure out what to do next.

Why is it his “home state?” Because he happened to be born there?  Sure he went to elementary school and high school there—his first 18 years of life.  But after that, he was off to BYU and then the east coast for grad school  and the private world in Massachusetts, ran for the Senate, and then became governor…of MASSACHUSETTS!  So for the last 47 years of his life, he has not associated with my home state; none of his 3 homes are even in MI (New Hampshire, California, and Massachusetts).

So why the hell does anyone consider Michigan Romney’s home state?  Now his dad (who turned American Motors around as its CEO and actually became governor of MI), HIS home state could be the Wolverine State, but Romney?  Not unless being a member of the pep squad at Cranbrook school earns one a permanent place on the Michigan-as-a-home-state honor roll.

3. Santorum’s fallacious backpedaling on JFK’s speech and the former’s desire to invert his diaphragm (i.e. “throw up”) in response to the late president’s remarks. 

Let’s follow the chain of events:

a) In 1960, JFK gives a speech about his views on the role of religion in government.  (Background: Kennedy, soon to be the first Catholic president, was allaying fears that the Pope would have some sort of Jedi mind-control powers over him because both were Catholic.  JFK mentions that he believes the “separation of church and state is absolute,” contextually talking about no public (or private) individual should feel coerced by religion regarding his political views, and vice versa).

b) February 26, 2012: Rick Santorum states that JFK’s speech made him want to “throw up.” (Background: here the senator is criticizing the trailblazing Catholic president whose efforts allow Santorum to run in the Republican primaries as a Catholic with no real baggage—unless he opens his mouth to create some.)

c) It’s generally agreed that Santorum mischaracterizes/misreads JFK’s remarks about religion in said speech.

d) Two days later (Feb 28), Santorum begins backpedaling and “wishes he could take his comment back,” but still insists that other parts of JFK’s speech indicate a “privatization of faith” and that he (Santorum) does not believe in an “absolute separation of church and state” as JFK defined it.

e) February 29, 2012: This author links to the transcript of JFK’s speech to let readers decide for themselves if anything in that speech can be read in support of Santorum’s argument.

f) Later that same day: This author smugly rests-assured in the knowledge that no such support shall be found.

In the end, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir (again) here, but I would hope that in an entrenched 2-party system, either side could come up with some better options and more substantive reasons why they should (or should not) be the next POTUS.

Devoured by our Consumption

As I’ve wasted countless hours on social networking sites, television, and once had a pretty crummy diet (apparently), I got to thinking about our consumption habits and the relationship to the products we’re supposedly consuming.

Supersized!

Our health is being devoured by the consequences of our diet.  We eat overly-processed food high in fat, artificial flavoring, and lord-knows-what-else, which have resulted in epidemics of obesity, diabetes, high blood-pressure, and cholesterol.  More health problems also drive up our overall health care costs which, unless you have amazing insurance, eat away at one’s pay checks or savings to pay for deductibles and other non-covered costs.

Our economy is also being destroyed in part by our need for manufactured goods which are no longer made in the USA due to outsourcing (to keep profits from consumerism high).  Without manufacturing to balance our export/import ratio, we fall further behind economically by sending money to other countries but bringing less and less in from foreign buyers.

Financially, we’re chronically in debt.  Credit card debt (to fund our consumerism) devours our livelihood through high interest rates or even the inability to pay at all.  As wealth inequality has grown over the past several decades, we willfully took advantage of easy credit to participate in an illusion of prosperity.

The financial sector’s greed for more and more money led to shakier and seedier investment deals that ultimately threw us into a full-blow recession that ate $12 TRILLION of taxpayers’ wealth.  (Were the financiers held accountable? Hell no—many were even rewarded! But I digress…)

Further, school loan debt now exceeds credit card debt in the U.S. and was acquired in pursuing an education because every employer wants a college degree (despite falling standards in the U.S. educational system).

Information is a bit more complicated in some ways.  There’s a lot more information accessible in the digital age, so much in fact, that we seek ways to limit our exposure to avoid being overwhelmed by it all (or allow our search engines to limit it for us—without our consent).  We still surf the Web and spend many hours on social networking sites, texting, and other virtual activities.  This can come at the expense of actual interaction with real human beings; my favorite example is when I witnessed the family of four out to dinner all clacking away on their portable media devices rather than talking with each other (I wonder if they were texting each other?).  We expect instantaneous communication in all things thanks to the digital revolution, and this erodes our understanding of how real-life interaction works.

Our attention spans seem to have been cut down to a Tweet or less—anything longer seems interminable for some.  It’s even affecting how we watch movies; I was at a documentary recently about the financial collapse, and many in the audience (a more “experienced” generation) thought it was too long (at only 120 minutes to describe a complicated series of events stretching over 30 years).

We seem to want our information summarized (the sound-bite phenomenon), and this seems to come at the expense of ability to critically analyze those statements for validity, logic, or even rationality.

I’m not some naysayer of consumerism in an absolute sense; I just think we need a dose of moderation in how we go about it and perhaps put some thought into the long-term consequences of our actions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to expanding my virtual manor that I can’t afford in real life.

As the “Super committee” (what makes it super is unclear) nears its deadline to come up with a budget proposal to prevent mandated cuts (which aren’t binding), the dysfunction of our political system is once again on display for the nation and the world.

We have two parties entrenched in their ideologies (not rationality mind you), an attitude of “us vs. them,” and an unwillingness to find real compromise.

The Evidence:

1. The fact that we have only two viable parties is obvious.  This presents us with the problem of limited choice to cover an otherwise wide range of nuanced views on our political issues.  In this case, it’s boiled down to “spending cuts” (in the government) vs. “revenue raisers” (i.e. taxes).  My daughter has more choice in her crayon box than we allow in our governance.

2. Given point 1 above, it would seem rational that compromise would be vital in order to take care of our budget crisis.  But if one party vows to vote as a block (preventing a majority through compromise), then their chances of passing legislation seem grim indeed.

3. So if they don’t reach an accord, “mandatory” cuts to entitlement programs and defense are supposed to take place.  (Rather than more thought-out cuts, these “mandatory” cuts would be “across-the-board” through sequestration).  I keep using quotes around mandatory because Congress, being Congress (i.e. the lawmakers), can find a way around these “mandatory” cuts if all else fails (and again kicking the budget problem down the road).

4. By some accounts, the approval rating of Congress is in the single digits (i.e. 9%); and while we know that there is room for error in any poll, another survey indicates 11% of its respondents think that Communism is a better political and economic system than ours.  Of course, that’s just silly, since Marx envisioned a disillusioned working class that despairs of polarizing wealth inequality and seeks to enact change against the wealth-holders.  I mean it’s not like we have people taking to the streets or anything…

The Conclusion:

So we have perpetual fund-raisers, I mean members of Congress, refusing to compromise over a national crisis.  They show more loyalty to their party than to the constituents they’re supposed to Represent (at the expense of the latter).

Again, what are we to do about it? Rotating the old guard of Congress isn’t the answer anymore.

It’s time to urge our state legislatures to reform the primary system which effectively keeps independent and third parties out of the national elections.  It’s time to put sound bites and blind-party allegiance aside, and to inject some objective rationality into our policy decisions.  It’s time to get truly informed about our political issues, feasible solutions, and vote accordingly.

It’s time for we, the people, to reassert control over our lives.

With the news abuzz with events that, while very tragic for some, continuing events can be easily overshadowed.  Here’s a quick round up of things that affect most, if not all, of us (on the planet).

The War in Afghanistan– Now the longest war in US history, our involvement in this militarily-infamous region has cost close to half a trillion dollars (more than half of Iraq which is also still accruing costs), over 1,800 US military fatalities, and over 32,000 wounded soldiers.

The US Debt– Related to the above item, we’re still being embarrassed by a stymied Congress incapable of rising above petty (and irrational) politics to solve our debt crisis.  We, the taxpayers, are being held hostage by ludicrous sound bites and, on the part of many, a willful ignorance of what to do in order to fix this massive problem.  Oh yeah, and the financiers who really facilitated the great bulk of this problem (thorough the economic recession), have still not been indicted for a single thing.

The European Debt– Another crisis that is and will continue to have inevitable impacts on our own economic well-being, more states in the Euro zone are close to failing and looking for a bailout; but where the “saviors” are going to get the money is anyone’s guess.  (To help with all of these woes, a miniscule “Robin Hood” tax on the world’s banking transactions has been proposed; within a day, suspicious “ballot stuffing” began pouring in from…wait for it…Goldman Sachs.  Shocker, eh?  Remember, their betting on the failing of the US housing market is how they made lots of money—and they’re advising their clients to bet on failure again).

Chinese/US Military Relations– Defense Secretary Panetta has remarked on the US remaining a “Pacific power” (i.e. relative to China).  Naval power is very expensive to maintain, yet the military and advisors to Congress both advocate that the US needs an increased military presence in Asia.  Not unrelated, this presence is also for competitiveness in economic matters (and in response to China’s military establishment growing bolder).

Let’s keep some things in perspective, eh?