Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Table Tennis

Currently, my vision of politics in America (and really, most of the world) goes something like this: Table tennis. You know, those really amazing Chinese player where the ball is going back and forth at a million miles an hour?

Left/Liberal/Democrat is one player, Right/Conservative/Republican is the other player. A few people are cheering and hollering for one player or the other other, but most of us are just eyeing the ball back and forth, back and forth. Issues bounce around meaninglessly at high speeds and both players just continue to volley. Nothing is really being accomplished.

Meanwhile, the corporations are not only paying the salaries of the players, but making sure there is a steady supply of ping pong balls coming in and an unending flow of light beer for the patrons in the stands.

Time to start realizing that the game has no end and the players are there to distract us from the men behind the curtain.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Question of Liberty

So, there's been a ton of things going on in the news and I haven't commented here much. I've had diarrhea of the mouth over HuffPost, but they've mostly been one off comments and intentionally starting arguments with those people that flag wave their stupidity.

But there's been an underlying current I've realized to a lot of what has caught my attention. It's as though I'm subconsciously drawn to news items and conversations that end up boiling down to a similar point and I can't seem to escape that point.

It's liberty. It's all about liberty. I'm a pop science fan, I admit. I have no real science skills, but I love reading or listening to Hawking and Tyson and Sagan and Kaku. But part of the reason that I'm so fascinated with it is because we have the consciousness to be able to try to step outside our own little bubble and look at our universe as objectively as we can. This ability, this wonderful gift is also a curse; our individuality separates us from others, permanently tethering us from the people and things we love the most.

To me, there is nothing more essential or basic to human beings than our ability to think, choose, wonder, dream and act. They might seem like separate things, but I think they are all aspects of liberty. They are the expressions of our consciousness and are vital.

When it comes to liberty, there's nothing better we can do as a species than not only express it, but encourage it in others. I'm not referring to the political definition of the word. This isn't about 'liberating' Afghanistan. I'm also not talking about some stoner utopia of laying around on a couch watching cartoons. I mean liberty in the sense that we dream, wonder, think, choose and act in a very conscious fashion and that we can do so in a way that encourages others to do the same thing.

Liberty has enemies - certitude, dogma, laziness, greed, fear. They end up being expressed through government, religion and other systems that offer protection in exchange for obedience. Make no mistake though, the only true crime that exists, the only one that matters, is violating someone else's liberty. When you take away their ability to choose, to wonder, to act, you've diminished yourself and them in a way that can never be atoned for. That moment is gone.

In theory, the idea of government should be a group of people who collectively choose to give up some liberty in exchange for other factors that ultimately benefit all involved. The problem with government though is that we are born into them and there is now nowhere on Earth where we are not subjected to them. It's not a voluntary proposition. We only have the choice of which government might closest suit us.

When it comes to religion, the story is not much different. Most of us are born into the religions of our parents and communities. The idea of being uninitiated to any religion and then coming to one because it calls you is almost unheard of. Very few people stray from their original beliefs and even fewer escape the moral trappings of the religions of their youth, even if they cease going to the church, mosque or temple. One of the most essential aspects of freedom of religion is the least cultivated: freedom *from* religion.

In a perfect world, we would all be 100% free, free to even choose to give up some freedoms. But the reality is we are not born free - we are born into servitude and must fight for freedom. Some of us might be fighting for our lives, others for our 'souls', but I promise you, there isn't a person alive today that isn't straining under the yoke of someone or something.

The reason I've written all of this is that I'm trying very hard to see my life, the world around me, the universe, all with the same lens. I think it's important to have some kind of view or structure that applies universally - like the much sought after 'unified theory' in physics. I loathe inconsistencies, hypocrisies, because in them are born the justifications for impeding Liberty.

So, with all of that, I've got a template to start examining the world around me in fine detail. I'd like to think that most of thoughts and feelings on topics already bear up to my 'liberty' scrutiny. But we will see.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Now What?

So, Osama bin Laden is dead. Many cheer, a few mourn. But the real question is what will this change? In part, I ask honestly, and in part I ask rhetorically.

Our wars will continue to rage, people will continue to die for religions and flags. We didn't declare 'War on bin Laden', we declared 'War on Terror'. Terror is a little harder to kill. It isn't hiding in Pakistan and no number of Navy SEALs can kill it. But we'll keep trying.

The machine that profits from the war will be just as hungry, if not more so. It's one hazy psuedo-goal has been removed from public view in a barrage of bullets. The powers that be will have no choice but to find a new villain for us to revile, a new ghost to chase.

On the other end, religious zealots, idiots, the gullible and the desperate will continue to be easily goaded into thinking that dying in the name of an omnipotent imaginary friend and taking some people with you will somehow grant you a cushy afterlife.

So I don't think a damn thing will change.

Monday, February 21, 2011

CIA and the White House are Sad Keanu

All of those years of planning and work. All of those quiet payoffs, back room deals, bodies stealthily disposed of. So many made rich on the backs of so many poor.

As the Middle East continues its surreal shake up, the White House, while keeping up the 'Smiling Face of Democracy' in press releases and appearances, is actually down at the bar on the corner, with the CIA, crying into their beer.

So much has been thrown into the air and we have no idea where it's going to land. Certainly there are potential upsides for the citizens of these countries, although I think they will probably go through some nasty growing pains first. As I write this there are rumors of Libyan planes firing on their own civilians. People are fighting for their lives and for their ideals and for a tiny bit of hope.

While we, as a country, may cheer them on, we may not like the results. Will a free and democratic Libya, the majority of whom are very poor, want to be as generous with their oil as they did under Ghaddaffi? Will they, along with some recently liberated neighbors decide that they have the power and will to pull the oil teet from America's always thirsty mouth?

If that day rolls around, if the time comes when Americans suddenly find themselves in a world where the half of the Middle East that we aren't at war with isn't in bed with us any longer, what will happen? Will America tolerate $8 a gallon gasoline?

I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen. But I'm thrilled to find out.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Obama Has Blown It Again

So, I'm a bit cranky today. A bit of a hangover after celebrating a friend's birthday. I'm getting too old for weekday partying.

However, like most people, I have an opinion about the Egypt situation, which fortunately was formed before I went drinking last night.

Regardless of how the Egypt situation plays out in the long run, America lost a golden opportunity. By playing 'fence' politics, Obama has made sure that once again, we're on the side of self-interest. Only this time, it's not going to pay off.

If Mubarak somehow retains power and keeps his position, the Egyptian people will be seriously pissed. His government is already inextricably tied to the U.S. and the people of the Middle East won't forget that.

On the flip side, if he's ousted, the U.S. has done themselves no favors by essentially sitting on the sidelines. Most of the goodwill and influence we had in the region through Mubarak will be lost. The new government might be democratic, but it won't matter if they feel they can't trust America.

And really, why should they? We profess to promote democracies around the world but what we really promote are leaders we can control. It doesn't really matter what packaging they throw on their regime, so long as the White House can manipulate them.

But the times, they are a-changin'. In the 21st century, I don't believe those tactics will fly any longer. In the age of smart phone globalism, passivity is no longer something that can hide in the shadows. As the U.S. tucks it's tail between it's legs and bows its head, every Egyptian citizen is taking notice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Power of Zero

I've been chewing on this idea for awhile. I first noticed it last year. That is, I noticed it from a new perspective; this idea of Partisan Politics. A few weeks back I went to my girlfriend's parents house for Christmas. I was forced to promise, in advance, not to discuss politics while we were there because she rightly knew that it would never end. I love to debate politics, but many people these days are downright hostile and it's made political discourse a risky conversational topic.

I tend to have some 'progressive' or 'liberal' views on things overall, but I also have some opinions that could be called conservative. However, I've never been either a registered Republican or Democrat. I've voted often and enthusiastically, but getting on board with a specific party always seemed limiting to me.

Over the last year though, it seems that being on 'one side or the other' is no longer just a description of our political landscape, but a problem in itself. The oh-so-obvious truth is that very few things in life have only two sides. Putting things in a liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat, Left/Right scheme doesn't elucidate issues, it dumbs them down. It makes the all important details too fuzzy to spot.

Then today, I came across this article on Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2282306 Of course, it made perfect sense to me. Political parties are just another 'us or them' opportunity.

But when you really break it down, when is the last time a political party did anything for anyone? Have you ever received a call from a Democratic candidate who said, 'Thanks for your vote, I'd like to take you to dinner'? Has a Republican ever called you and said 'As a fellow Republican, I'd like you to come golfing with me'? For that matter have they ever invited you to any strategy meetings, asked your opinion on pending bills or offered you any voice in how your parties funds are spent? I'm sure some within the 'party elite' get those things, but doesn't it bother you that your party has an elite?

Yet, after religious affiliation, political party ties are some of the most prominently displayed identifiers in our culture. Imagine what a newscast would sound like if they left out partisan terminology. There would just be names of representatives and their opinions on topics. Suddenly it's harder to hate them. You might disagree with their stance, but five minutes later you might cheering them on for a different vote. Even when it comes to people who are registered in neither party, there's a strong push to label them as Independent with a capital "I", as though they were a third party.

Along with major election reform in this country, I think one of the best things we could do would be to dismantle the corrupt, glad-handing, divisive, nasty, outdated, parasitic party system in this country. I'm not sure how to go about that. All I know is, I want to vote for a candidate, not a 'party' that does nothing but profit from the lowest of our societial tendencies.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nonexistent Targets

I have a very mixed history when it comes to guns. When I was 12, my step-father took my step-brother and I shooting. We were after rabbits with small gauge shotguns. I couldn't shoot. Later, in the Navy, I qualified with the .45 and the M-16. After getting out of the service, I had friends with large gun collections and often went to the range with them and subsequently fell in love with the Sig Sauer 226. A fine handgun.

Although I consider myself a Constitutionalist, I'm not a person who believes that the document is always right for our times. In fact, many of the things written in both the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights just doesn't apply in the same way it did 200 years and a few hundred million people ago.

To me, it seems that the backbone of the pro-gun argument is that it's a Constitutional right and that it's there to prevent us from being enthralled by a tyrannical government. I buy that it's a right as laid down by our Founding Fathers. I'm not one of those people that subscribes to the definition of the 2nd Amendment as something that was only meant to apply to militias. It makes sense to me that after the birth of our nation, a fear of an oppressive government was a reasonable one and that letting the citizens be armed was a great way to keep elected officials in check.

However, it's 200 years later. We are a country of hundreds of millions and the type of despotism seen in the 18th century just wouldn't happen here in this country today. Why? Well, to be blunt, there's just too much money to be lost. The system as it stands, highly corrupted and undermined, yet still on it's face, a legitimate democratic republic, keeps the money flowing in all of the right directions.

While it's theoretically possible a group of citizens could get together with their pitchforks and shotguns and head toward Capitol Hill, can you imagine how that would actually play out? It would never even get to that stage in the first place. Each of the 'troublemakers' would be discredited personally or publicly well in advance and if not, any form of organized rebellion would be labeled as 'terrorism' long before they got to the physical violence stage.

Soldiers won't be knocking down your door and kicking you off your property. You are too valuable as a consumer, as a buyer of things, as a worker/purchaser drone. Go ahead and have your guns. There's nothing really to shoot at any longer, accept each other.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Untangling the Healthcare Situation

The problem of health care has a simple solution. Take note of the word 'simple'. I intentionally avoided 'easy', because like many of the problems in this country we often mistake the two, going for the quick and lazy solution. It's this pattern of borrowing, blame, avoidance and pushing things under the rug that has led to one of ugliest periods in this country's history. Health care in this country is in shambles and instead of really thinking through the issue from the ground up, we're standing around arguing over the merits of a new structure built on top of the rubble of the previous one.

Last year's bill was weak to begin with, watered down by endless partisan yapping and vile amounts of lobbying money. At best, it was a Band-Aid for a bullet wound. This half-assed, middle of the road approach left no one happy.

Instead of focusing on the repeal of the bill though, I'm going to suggest that we take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Now, take another step back and then another. Let's go all the way back to this: What kind of world do we want to live in? Not in a practical sense, but in an ideal one. A truly idyllic health care system. What would it look like?

I think we'd all have a similar vision. Small, personal and community-based clinics, where all we had to do was walk in and say 'It hurts here', pointing to our elbow. We'd get great preventative services from doctors and nurses we knew on a first name basis, drugs would be prescribed as needed and we could trust that the doctor had no one in mind besides us when he handed us the bottle. We'd walk out of the office without having paid a bill. Our medical records could be accessed by us at any time and doctors would communicate with each other in a way that made us feel included in our own health plan.

Does anyone think that that doesn't sound nice? Okay, so getting to that place might be really difficult. In fact, it might not be realistic as soon as we'd like. But we have an obligation to get as close to that as we can, as soon as we can. And yes, for those of you reading this on the political right, I'm talking about socialized medicine. But I'm also here to tell you this: socialized medicine would be the biggest boon for capitalism since the industrial revolution.

Without getting into the squishy warm fuzzy reasons we should all be looking out for our neighbors and doing our best to help the less fortunate, let's look at more pragmatic monetary reasons. Let's dig out exactly why socialized medicine is good for a capitalistic society.

In my description for the ideal health care, one aspect of our current system was glaringly absent: Insurance. Let's define it: "The act, system, or business of insuring property, life, one's person, etc., against loss or harm arising in specified contingencies, as fire, accident, death, disablement, or the like, in consideration of a payment proportionate to the risk involved." The concept of 'health insurance' is flawed at it's very core because every single person needs health care on a continuing basis; your entire life is a 'specified contingency'. Needing health care isn't something that 'might' happen to some of us, like having your car stolen or being caught in a hurricane. Every single person in this country should be seeing a physician on a regular basis if for no other reason than preventative care and routine physicals.

They aren't though because they can't afford it. I could probably dig up a statistic about how much the 46.3 million people under the age of 65 who aren't covered cost the country every year in emergency room visits. That number though, wouldn't reflect the larger cost. How much time did the hypothetical 25 year old uninsured pizza delivery driver spend on the couch, not working when his eye got infected? He didn't have insurance and waited until it got serious to go to the emergency room. Instead of a cheaply preventable situation, we now have one where we pay for his diagnosis and treatment, but he also loses out on work during his recovery. That's money out of his check that is no longer going into our economy. Instead of a guy working and spending his money on video games or his girlfriend, we have a guy on the couch, costing us money.

What I'm getting at here is that a healthy, active workforce is one that not only generates more goods, it's one that spends more money. The whole point of insurance is to defray costs, right? So let's take that to the ultimate level and defray the cost for everyone. Let's put every person into a health care system that doesn't charge the patients, that isn't running a for-profit system that grows when it makes us 'less sick' but not well. Let's not bankrupt a functioning member of our society because he can't make a medical payment. It doesn't pay - for any of us.

Doctors, nurses and everyone who works hard in the medical profession deserves to be well compensated. But they deserve to be paid well because they pulled a tumor out of your brain and nursed you back to health, not because they have to charge you exorbitant fees to pay for the dozens of hours they spent filling out insurance paperwork. The insurance companies are worthless middlemen in the health care world. They serve no real purpose.

I want to live in a world where a doctor makes his living by preventing as many health problems as possible and treating the ones that he can't. I don't want to pay him to do that, because I'd like to think that he does it because he has a calling to help people. I will, however pay taxes into a society that respects his calling and makes sure that he and his family can live comfortably to perform that service to all of the taxpayers.

No one is out there suggesting that fire or police services should be for-profit entities, so why health care? It's about time that we realize that our society is better off when companies aren't getting rich off of our misfortune. We'll be a healthier, stronger, richer country when insurance stops profiting from our neighbors illness. The only upside to having a system as broken as ours is that we have very little to lose by scrapping the whole thing and starting fresh.

The solution isn't easy. It's going to be very difficult to root out our enemy. The insurance companies and the power structures in place are deeply entrenched and have every motivation to keep things the way they are. No one in the current administration, including Obama, have the political will or currency to make the real changes necessary.

I can dream though. And blog.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Coming Out From Under My Rock

I started this blog at a rather tumultuous time in my life. It wasn't long before personal issues pulled me away and sapped much of my energy to blog. In the last year, however, I've found myself in a very grounded position and my urge to share my thoughts and ideas have returned.

In fact, in today's political and social climate, my need to vent, communicate and share is greater than ever.

Here's to the debates, discussions, trolls, revelations, vitriol and camaraderie to come.