Friday, May 25, 2012


Last week, I gave all of you (Yes, YOU!) a taste of my opinion about the political parties
in the US. Today, you get the flip side of it. I am going to go into what a "Liberal" political party should probably be doing. And comparing that to what our current brand of "Liberal" is actually doing.

Now, let's start off with the same copypasta as we did last time:

   [lib-er-uhl, lib-ruhl] Show IPA
1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. ( often initial capital letter ) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible,
especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal
belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional
ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.
14. a person of liberal principles or views, especially in politics or religion.
15. ( often initial capital letter ) a member of a liberal party in politics, especially of
the Liberal party in Great Britain.

Wow. That is a long "definition" for the word. We could make "Liberal" into a lot of things. For the purpose of this blog post, please ignore numbers 2, 3, 6, 12, 13, 14, and 15. From this definition, it seems that "liberal", generally, means to be open and tolerant. Though, personally, I prefer the first one. "Favorable to progress or reform". I like that.

Let's start by rambling on about how liberal our "Liberal" party may be. This party has long espoused the idea that people should have the rights that everyone else does. It doesn't matter if you are white, black, yellow, orange, male, female, transsexual or asexual. There are rights that our Constitution guarantees and those rights should be extended to ALL citizens. Now, that sounds like a really good thing. But what else do they stand for? Do they hope to get all of us to follow a religion? No. Do we all need to give up our lives and let the government dictate what we can do for a living? No. So, what do they stand for?

That last question is something that has crossed my mind and settled in as some unanswerable quandary. I can't think of any specific thing the entire party stands on. Other than, "Our country isn't perfect. Let's try to fix it." I don't just mean this for their campaigning. Every two years they seem to have a bunch of individuals who carry the Party Tag(tm), but very few issues that all of them seem to agree on. This is in stark contrast to the "Conservative" party. And this, in my not-so-humble opinion, makes it harder to hold them to task for not following their word. While I like people who are flexible, the purpose of a party is to bring people of a similar outlook together, and to help pool
resources to get them into office. About the only thing they all agree on is that they are not "Conservative". And that just doesn't ring true when you look at what they are known for doing.

In the last few years, we have had very few policy changes that have hit the national news. Well, to my knowledge. These issues are simple: Health care reform. The Bush tax breaks came up for renewal. SOPA/PIPA. Wait, have others hit the national discussion? Because they seem to have slipped below my radar. So, let's take a look at what the "Liberal" party has done in these three cases.

Health care reform. Something that all of the candidates in 2008 touched on in one form or another. It was a major issue that our current president brought up, and who made it a priority after he was voted into office. We can look at this from both sides, liberal and conservative. Please note, I am not capitalizing those words. It is a project that required a bit of ambition. And writing new laws rather than just modifying existing ones to make it work. It seems to be a very liberal project. And one designed to have a lasting and progressive effect on our country. However, a standard "Conservative" value is to protect existing policies. Such as Medicare. Which is, wait..  is it health care from the government? And it is 10x more efficient than privatized health insurance? Hmm. From an economic perspective, this might seem to be a conservative idea. One that is designed to keep people healthy and working, while cutting down the costs associated with it. However, it is a very loose interpretation to call it conservative, so I won't be so liberal as to call it that. +1 liberal to the Liberal Party for trying to get this project up and running. Yes, I said try. They failed miserably at setting up anything other than mandating that everyone buys into the current privatized health insurance scheme.

Now, this issue almost managed to shut down our government. The next major issue that crossed my radar was the Bush tax cuts coming up for renewal. In this, the Liberal Party put forth the radical idea that those who could still afford to have their taxes raised should no longer benefit from these tax cuts that have made it so difficult for our country to meet its budgeting needs. Now, let us remember the definition of conservative from last week. To keep the same or return to a previous state. This would seem to be a very conservative idea. To keep those who are barely making due at the current rates, and rolling back the rates of those who can afford to lose a little more of their pay check every month. No real changes to existing tax code. No huge shifts in how things are being handled. And, heck, with all the loopholes..  very few "rich" people would end up paying more anyway. But they had to fight tooth and nail to try to get this done. And caved rather than letting the government shut down completely. Kudos to them for doing the conservative thing and preserving the status quo rather than shaking things up. Wait, the conservative thing? Weren't they the "Liberal" party?

While I don't believe that complete shut down or dismantling of our government is a good idea, these "Liberal" politicians need to learn how to push for change. And how to shape the national discourse so that truly progressive ideas may be considered again. This country is a bit messed up! But the only folks willing to change it seem to be in it for the wrong reasons. Now, where were we? Oh, right.

SOPA/PIPA. The third topic that has crossed my radar in the last four years. This beautiful piece of legislation was almost passed, with plenty of support from both sides of the aisle. I'm not sure I can be proud of that, given how liberal it was with expanding the rights of companies. No, I didn't say copyright holders. I said companies. But copyright is something I'll get into another week. I can understand this being liberal in favor of companies. But how does this help support and expand the personal liberties of everyone who lives in this country? Does it support their general concept of helping improve the average person's life? I don't think so. It had the potential to stifle the spirit of anyone that tried to compete with the major companies. Companies who, generally, have enough lawyers on staff that taking them to court isn't worth it. While the implementation of this law seems to have a very liberal bent, I would have to classify it as a conservative endeavor. Something that tries to support and strengthen what IS at the expense of what might be.

Our Liberal Party may be willing to say that they stand for everyone. And, for the most part, they follow through on it. Offering up legislation that would expand the rights of those who are having issues. Or trying to find ways of evening the tax burden across all of our wonderful citizens. However, they fail miserably at the standing part. Time and again they give up any advantages they might have had to try to get concessions from their Conservative Party fellows. And they are being taken advantage for it. I sincerely hope they can find a few members who are willing to stand up and say, publicly, that they are looking for actual debates with their opposites on the political spectrum. But I do not have faith that such a thing will happen in my life time.

Tune in next week for something slightly less political.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Conservatism in the US

Now, I'm sure anyone who is reading this blog already knows what political party is claiming to be conservative in the US. In this blog post, I am going to go over what they claim to stand for. And what I believe conservatism actually means. To facilitate this discussion, I am going to offer a little copypasta in the form of the definition for conservative.

   [kuhn-sur-vuh-tiv] Show IPA
1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
4. ( often initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
5. ( initial capital letter ) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.

Now. As you can see from the above spam, there are many definitions for conservative in the online version of the dictionary. The last two are, in my opinion, largely useless. They don't mean ANYTHING unless the groups they are referring to are actually conservative. And that is why I am going into my thoughts on Conservatism in politics.

Now, the Conservative Party (I am not going to write it out. Bear with me) in the US has been that way for quite a while. They claim to uphold the ideals of Limited Government, Lower Taxes and a Focus on America. No. The rampant capitalization of that last sentence was not a mistake. I consider those terms to be used the same way that Conservative is used in the fourth and fifth definitions for it. These topics are all things that sound good. But are they often followed through on? And how do these ideas mesh with the definition for conservative? Let's take a look.

The first claim that is often pushed forward by ANY candidate in the Conservative Party is that they want Limited Government. They want you to be able to live your life without too much control from your federal government. This sounds good, right? Fewer laws limiting where you can walk. Who you can talk to. How fast you can drive. What you have to purchase. This sounds like a good deal. But what do these "Limited Government" candidates often do when they get into office? They, often, push forward an agenda trying to limit the rights of people who don't agree with their general beliefs. Wait. Let us read that again. Their favorite things to do in office are to try to limit the rights and power of others? How is that limited government? How does telling people they can't get married, or adopt, or get a government job, or buy birth control help limit the power of government? Isn't this just what they claim to be against? A truly conservative candidate would be trying to stop the government from getting involved. That kind of interference GROWS the power of government. It doesn't limit it. Now, let me prove how these actions contradict the definition of conservative. The first definition is being disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, or restore traditional ones. Or to limit change. There are no laws currently (or in my lifetime, to my knowledge) limiting access to birth control or saying who can or cannot adopt a child. So many of these fail the first test. The second definition is to be cautiously moderate or purposefully low. While the MORALS of these fine folks may be low, that is not what is meant by the definition. By pushing forward these laws, purposefully, viciously, as soon as they get anything resembling a majority in any legislature, they are definitely not being cautious or setting the bar too low. So that's a fail for that definition. So, maybe it fits the third definition. To be traditional in style or manner, avoiding novelty or showiness. Well, they certainly make a show of their attempts to change the laws. Often pushing forward "voter initiatives" to deflect the blame. Wait. There it is! They are conservative in their attempts to get these laws to pass. Trying to pass the blame to ANYONE else if approval for the ideas starts to dip.

The second big thing that conservatives often play on is their desire to Lower Taxes in America. Anywhere they go, they want to cut your taxes! That sounds great, right? Well, let's see how that tends to work. First, we Lower the Taxes. This causes everyone to have more money, yes? This something we can all get behind. But, should we always be lowering taxes? Is it possible that there are BAD times to be lowering taxes? Are they being lowered in a way that actually helps out our country? I believe that the conservative thing (by the second definition, mostly) would be to take a look at our national or state budget and lower taxes only when that wouldn't CAUSE a deficit to occur. A conservative banker would NEVER give away more money than he could afford to write off. Why would our conservative legislators do so? If they can find waste in our system, or programs that are no longer needed, then cut them and find a better use for the money. Or, y'know, cut the revenue stream that was funding it. However, our "conservative" legislators have been starting new programs without funding them, while also cutting taxes in general. I wish *I* could stand up and say, "I'm never going to work again. Oh, and I'm buying a Porsche next week." I'd be laughed off the lot! And yet, these same people expect to get re-elected based off of their conservative ideals.

And, I mentioned it. So I guess I have to go into it. Their "Focus on America". I think this is a wonderful message. That we should be looking to our own problems and find ways to fix them. We need to get our own house in order before we can tackle the problems of the world. However, this is often followed by the cutting of funding for various things that we (and the rest of the world!) consider to be our problems. They step up and cut funding for education. They step up and cut back funding for public works projects. Or block the creation of new ones. They stand up and tell us that what we have for welfare is broken and only funding people who will never work again. And that our healthcare system is the best in the world. With the number of job losses over the last decade, and our economy's tepid attempt at a recovery, those last two problems are ones that have only grown worse. As many people have tried to get a few jobs, many families have been stuck with welfare as their only source of income for an extended period of time. The adults in the household are trying for work. Putting out dozens of applications every week. And then, finally, one of them lucks out and they manage to bring in enough money to get off of the social welfare program that saved them from losing their home. If only 50%, or heck. Twenty five percent, of the funds actually went towards keeping people from losing their homes while they are between jobs, then these programs have done their jobs. Of course, this rampant unemployment (still above 7% nationally, as of the last I heard) has caused many people to not be able to afford the healthcare they need to be able to work! If a simple cut turns into an infected mess, that person now has to go to the ER. And if they don't have the money in their account to pay for it? Well, US law requires these hospitals to stabilize the person anyway. And who pays for it? The hospital! How is this the "best healthcare system in the world"? If you don't have 100k in the bank, waiting for that cancer to finally hit someone in your family, you are screwed. Denying or exacerbating the problems of our nation does not help us fix them. Not everything is a profitable idea for a private corporation. And constantly stalling out or cutting apart our national government will not fix these problems.

Wow. That turned ranty. Well, to continue the last paragraph from where it derailed: If the party who claimed to be 'conservative' would actually look at our problems and try to find ways of fixing them (including actually raising the funds necessary to pay for it), I think this country would be in much better shape than it is now. Unfortunately, it comes down to our more "liberal" (yes, in quotes) party to push forward national infrastructure projects when they get a majority. Since when did investing in America become investing in the private companies who are only concerned with money? It comes down to responsible members of our government to look at everything that afflicts us and find ways to improve our country. And not just to improve those people's lives who donate the most to their bank accounts when election season rolls around.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thoughts on Gay Rights in the US

For my third installment, let's explore my own idea of what "Gay Rights" means and why this is such an issue in our country. Many other nations have either banned or certified rights for same-sex couples across their country. So why does ours seem to have such an issue with putting into law what we think is right?

The debate surrounding this topic includes several avenues. These, typically, are: Religious Values(tm), Tradition, Family Values(tm), and Civil Liberties.

First off, we'll talk about the Religious Values(tm) that are often cited as the reason we should ban gay marriage. Marriage, as an institution, has its roots in religious ceremonies. The union of two people together, for better or for worse, that gave them exclusive rights to the other. This was (in my limited research) enforced as a social contract, initially. It was something that you were expected to do before you raised a family. And, often, people as young as 12 or 13 would be married so they could *ahem* get to it. These are good reasons for marriage to continue to be socially accepted. A cohesive family will, generally, raise better adjusted children. However, as the years have progressed, governments have started to include tax and other legal benefits for couples who are married. These benefits can include next of kin, tax breaks, shared accounts and other things that provide a tangible benefit for being married beyond the benefits of having multiple people sharing a single home. As such, I believe that you can practice your own form of religious ceremony when you get married. But please, let there be a legal version for people who don't believe the same exact things you do.

Next, we'll get into the "Tradition of Marriage". This argument is basically an argument for "We've always done it this way, why change?" And, honestly, reasons have been presented for it to change. Reasons of fairness, of progress. Of civil liberty (to be discussed later). There are some things that we probably shouldn't change, because they have been tested and adjusted and shifted over the years into something that works really well. This is not one of those things. The tradition of marriage has been largely unchanged for centuries. The only things that have been adjusted are age limits on how young one can go through the ceremony and have it be legally binding. You no longer see children who have barely hit puberty being married off by their parents. That part of the "tradition" has been looked at and revised over the years. This is our time to look at and decide if other aspects of this tradition may need to be modified to fit into our modern world.

Family Values is something often cited as a reason to not change the legal definition of marriage. Or, worse, to "defend marriage". And what do they come out with? That same-sex couples won't give marriage the respect it deserves? Have they seen the divorce rate in this country? Same-sex marriage isn't legal in the majority of states. And we still have 50+ percent divorce rates among married individuals. It is becoming more and more difficult to find someone who hasn't already tied the knot when one goes out and talks to single men and women. How does this support an argument against same-sex marriage? They can't do any worse on that count. And, honestly, "til death do you part" is one of the bigger parts of the traditional vows, in my opinion. The other values often given voice are: "A family needs to be a man and a woman. Otherwise they'll grow up thinking being gay is okay." "If you expose children to a gay couple, you'll corrupt them." Now a days, so many children grow up in a single-parent home that they aren't getting the attention and support they need to truly develop. As someone who has several teachers as friends and family, I can say with confidence that the home situation is something that greatly affects how well children focus and dedicate themselves to difficult parts of life. If straight couples are constantly obsessing over their own views, or there are abusive members of a family, those children will be far worse off than if they lived near (or with!) a gay couple. Family Values will only become a meaningful argument after we have some evidence to support that it is harmful to nearby children. And, honestly, I fail to see how that can be given the horrible state of marriage in this country today.

The final part of this discussion that I wanted to talk about is civil liberties. The basic rights of those people who live in this country, and the benefits that often come with these rights. I mentioned earlier that legal marriage is something that confers special benefits to those couples who are registered with the country or state they live in. These benefits have nothing to do with religious orientation. They are purely economic and social benefits that are largely denied to same-sex couples simply due to their personal orientation. Allowing a lifelong partner to visit someone who is hospitalized due to an illness is not something that should be limited based on religion. The tax benefits of married couples is nothing to dismiss, either. These benefits can mean thousands of dollars every year being returned to them for staying together and combining their economic assets. Then we can get into the social impact of allowing same sex couples. These can include: More foster homes for children. Fewer people losing their jobs due to them being "outted" at their workplace (yes, this still happens). We can focus more on real issues that affect our country when we are in a political cycle. And, perhaps the most important, the idea that gay people are somehow "broken" may stop being taught to our children. This last one is a huge point for me. We often have debates that can shift the entire framework for what is right and wrong in our country. For a long time, being gay was something that was just quietly ignored. If it was found out you were, a minor excuse was made and you went away. Now, it is a huge issue that must be actively punished. And why? Because you are afraid people might say it is okay? Who are you to tell others whether or not their personal lives are right?

The discussion on gay rights seems to be one that involves people looking at the state of OTHER people's lives, and deciding it isn't right. On this issue, as with most, if what you choose to do with your life doesn't negatively impact mine, I think you should have the right to do what you want. Given the legal benefits of marriage in this country, they should have the right to be LEGALLY married. Whether or not a religious ceremony happens should be up to the individual churches they attend and/or worship at. The separation of church and state is a wonderful idea in this country. And letting a certain group's religious views dictate what others in this country can do in their personal lives is the worst form of church dictatorship we could have.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The trouble with the news

The 24 hour news cycle. Something we all take for granted in this day and age. No longer do we have to wait until 6pm to get our news. You can find a channel telling a version of the story right now! But is this actually leading to us being better informed? Is there enough news happening every day to warrant this kind of attention? And how much of the news is only news because another news show did a segment on it? Let's explore...

With several 24/7 news stations currently on cable television, we can tune in at any time to get news from a variety of perspectives. Many of these stations focus on politics in one form or another. MSNBC, FOX, Al Jazeera. While others focus on sports related news, i.e. the dozens of ESPN channels. While you may find local news on the non-sports channels anyway, their focus is on national news that relates to their stance in politics. Fox is one that I really cannot focus on. This is because the few times I *have* watched it, they have presented "facts" that I already knew were false through my own research on the topic. I cannot, and will not, willingly watch a station that regularly presents information that is easily dis-proven. MSNBC, being the obvious flip side to Fox, is one that I am often forced to listen to. I live with other people. It is their home. As such, if they want to watch something, I end up having to listen to it. However, I have found that most of their information can be verified, and all of their shows have willingly posted retractions if some of their information turns out to be wrong. Al Jazeera television is one that I do not often watch. It is largely neutral in our constant "liberal - Conservative" debates, pointing out the flaws in our system and the arguments that tend to hold the attention of the media. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying they are unbiased. But they are more "liberal" than anything in this country can get while being mainstream. However, they are a news outlet. And often run informative shows that either debate current topics, or go into the history of decisions made in various countries.

With all these channels to choose from, which is the best? Right now conservatives listen to Fox News. Just about anyone else listens to MSNBC. Or (shudder) NPR. Those damn liberal hippies are always trying to "inform" people. Blech. Any who, tangent traversed, back to the main topic. Can one have "two extreme choices" and still be informed on either end of the spectrum? Yes, I put that entire phrase in quotation marks. Mostly because I believe one of those two news outlets tries to inform, while the other tries to keep your attention in any way possible. I am not here to tell you which is which. And this is an issue (to me). You can't have intelligent discourse if one half of the issue always believes that the other half is being misled or lied to. How can you? Everything that comes out of their mouth is just another regurgitated lie, right? How do you rationally argue against willful ignorance? Both sides in our national debate seem to have this basic stance when it comes to the electorate. Our side is right. The other side is too stubborn to get their facts straight. And that is, in large part, due to the dichotomy of our news system.

I believe that the 24 hour news cycle has forced this disconnect between the two sides of our political spectrum. They lose viewers if they don't have a related show on at all hours. But there just isn't enough information to fill all that time. So what you get are a dozen different shows, all of them giving a slightly (or sometimes the exact same) take on the stories that are currently being reported on. It isn't uncommon for an entire "news" station to dedicate a week to a specific topic, only mentioning other news that may have occurred during the week. And having the same thing said, over and over again, and then referenced by the other shows gives it more weight than the facts currently available would normally lend it. After all, if six different pundits said it, it has to be true. Right?!

Which brings us to our final topic. How can we be well informed in this digital age? This is the greatest question that we can ask. All of our news outlets, television or not, seem to be tainted with political ideals. Even our written publications cannot be trusted, as they are owned by the same folks who own the television and radio news channels. And have you tried googling anything that gets mentioned on television? 400 hits of people all commenting on it. Objective journalism is hard to come by. The "echo chamber" on each side of our political spectrum is often blamed for people being misinformed. But I think it comes down to complacency. We trust the folks we get our news from. But I don't think many of these same people are worthy of that respect.