Fix the System

The poltical system of the USA is facing major issues of which the average citizen is unaware. The power to fix these issues lies solely in the hands of the public.

Location: Peabody, Massachusetts, United States

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Morals, In Reality

Why is it that when people find there are distasteful, unethical or immoral things going on around them that seem to be out of control their response is so often, "oh well, if I can't make things the way they should be, I might as well take advantage of the situation." Stated like this it is a ludicrous notion for anyone with an ounce of moral fiber. However when you take it as applied to many of the current problems facing society, you start to get the feeling that some of the people who are supposed to be protecting us are actually some of our worst enemies.

Financial Institutions:
There is no such thing as ethics on Wall Street. There are laws and there are profits. If you can find a way around a law to get more profits, that is valued, rewarded, praised and imitated. Regardless of whose money you risk, whose jobs you cut, which competitors you crush, which shady foreign dictator you bolster, which life-saving drugs you price out of reach, which foreign factory pays your slaves, or how much you pollute. Anything that brings profits is good.

Human Rights:
People are capable of some pretty awful things: murder, rape, war, terrorism, etc. Does that mean we can use these things to push our own agendas? If a woman is raped, why in the world is it even thinkable to side with the rapist? Why do people so often say they are "asking for it" by their behavior? You wouldn't use the same logic to condemn someone for crossing the street at a crosswalk if they're hit by a car that they couldn't see coming. Life is risk, we cannot always protect ourselves. Attacking the victims is unconscionable. We cannot say, "We need oil. Let's find a country we disagree with, invade them and take it over. Hey, we're getting rid of this bad guy, aren't we great?" "Terrorists are awful, but hey, they provide an excellent excuse to spy on my rivals and enemies."

Morals are not something we can leave at home when we go to work. Your most important work should always be to protect your loved ones. Every time you do something unethical, you are adding to the problems society and your loved ones face.

"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21)


Friday, November 04, 2011

6 Myths of the Free Market

  1. Myth: An unregulated free market will produce the best product at the best price. Reality: The specialty of free market systems is to produce maximum profits for those merchants selling there. It only maximizes value for the consumer if there is healthy competition. If a merchant (corporation) becomes big enough that they can control anything but their own prices and product, this model fails to protect the consumer.
  2. Myth: Regulations inhibit the ability of a free market to provide the products people want at a price they want. Reality: Sure, regulations could theoretically be used in any number of ways to inhibit products and prices. However, regulations can be (and usually are) used in positive ways to encourage healthier competition, protect consumers' interests, and keep prices low, among other things.
  3. Myth: Nothing good comes from regulations. Reality: Here are a few good things brought about by regulation: nutritional information on food, absence of price-gouging as the rule in a time of crisis, minimal safety standards for cars, near absence of many previously fatal/serious diseases such as polio, small pox, measles, etc.
  4. Myth: Consumers know what they want. Reality: You can't make an informed decision without information. Most useful information a consumer is interested in when making a large/important purchase is only available because of regulations.
  5. Myth: We have enough regulations. Reality: When there is profit to be made by finding a loophole in existing regulations, it will be found and exploited. Whenever new technology comes along it frequently opens new loopholes. As long as we have technological progress, we will need regulation to keep up with the technology.
  6. Myth: The free market is democratic. Reality: The free market is capitalist. The difference between capitalism and democracy is that the worth of your "vote" is in direct proportion to your bankroll. Sure, anyone can vote with their wallet, but the market only listens to the people with the biggest ones.
 In short, from a consumer's point of view, regulations are critical to maintaining the health of the free market. We will always need new regulations. We may need to remove some old regulations as well. It is absolutely possible to have very bad regulations. The debate can never be for or against regulations taken as a whole. Each regulation needs to be considered independently.

In today's world, most Fortune 500 companies are fully capable of manipulating their market to a great degree, with many of them having power over many different markets. Due to the state of politics in this country, regulations are far behind technology, and these corporations would like to keep it that way, and even expand the gap. If you're that big already, any softening of regulation (or advance in technology) allows you to take a few more pennies out of your customers' or employees' wallets and use them to pad the wallets of your executives and shareholders.

Anti-regulation is anti-democratic.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Radicalization of the Electorate

The Occupy Wall Street movement which has spread to cities around the world represents a dramatic shift in the state of the electorate. By definition, a radical is someone who does not believe the system works and that it will require significant changes to restore proper functional order. This is a spectrum, of course, ranging from those who think that voting out most incumbents will solve the problem to people who think government should be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. The popularity of the OWS movement is a direct indicator of radical ideals becoming more popular and even mainstream.

Like it or not, OWS is a radical movement. I would argue that it is specifically a radical moderate movement. In that its issues are primarily with aspects of the system that affect both parties equally, and are agreeable to a large majority of the electorate.

Unfortunately, most of these folks are new to radicalism, and are not used to thinking outside of the box, hence the lack of focus of their message. I would suggest three main issues that they could take up that would be of most value to making progress in the direction they would want to see.

1. The most important issue they should be taking up is the overturning or legislating away of the Citizens United decision that recently changed the political landscape and is effectively taking small donors out of the political process. This decision is the most damaging development in our democracy to date. I'd love for someone to prove me wrong here.

2. Massive electoral reform. As long as there is so much to be gained by having a "controlling interest" in Washington politics, there will be corporations finding ways around whatever rules are in place. Even if we fix issue number 1, we are still fighting an uphill battle. I would personally love to see presidential elections REQUIRED to be funded by public funds, so that all candidates winning the nomination of a nationally recognized party would be allotted equal funds to run their campaigns. Maybe you could fund this by commandeering all of the funds currently in the possession of the wide variety of PACs out there. (Yes, I know commandeering these funds would never happen and would likely be judged illegal.)

3. Give some REAL power to the new Bureau of Consumer Protection. It has been eviscerated by all of the special interests - in this case, primarily Wall Street and other big businesses.

If OWS could get any of these three issues addressed, even in part, it would be a huge victory. If they can get more politicians to pay attention to these issues, it would be highly beneficial. If they can get the word out, it's a step in the right direction.

Radicalism, in general is difficult to focus. I almost want to laugh at Obama's attempt to align himself with OWS. (He might be able to do so by doing something significant on one of the above three issues, but I don't see that happening.) However, if the right ideas or leaders can emerge to bring a focus to a movement like this, there's no telling how powerful the movement might become.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Citizens United: Holding Republicans Hostage

While I believe one of the main problems facing our democracy in this country is the lack of viable 3rd parties, apparently there are many out there who believe that 2 viable parties are too many. Ever since the decision for granting corporations First Amendment rights in the “Citizens United” case, the Republicans have been economically forced to pursue radical capitalist agendas which are designed specifically to create a political monopoly. Lest you suggest that I am overreacting, let me offer some evidence.

The cohesiveness of the mainstream Republican platform is at an all-time high. When was the last time anyone heard a non-Tea-Party Republican say anything that other Republicans were not already saying or which picked up almost immediately afterwards? The party is nearly unanimous (with notable exceptions for Tea Partyers and Republicans representing Blue regions) on almost every significant piece of legislation. 
This much, you could easily attribute to “politics as usual” – with coordination and strategy. However, the recent attacks on the few powerful left-leaning organizations reveals the true goals of the Republican party – they aim not just to win, but to crush the competition. They will not be content until the Democratic party is lumped in with the other 3rd parties as “the opposition.”

By attacking public broadcasting, they are literally attacking the most trusted news source in this country.  Fortunately, I don’t think they can take those organizations down due to the strong public financial support they gets on a regular basis. However, having the conversation about whether or not it should be funded is an attempt to corrode public trust and slander the work of the organizations. NPR and PBS will survive, but they will be weakened and wounded. Ironically, reducing the ability of the populace to express its First Amendment rights, as you would expect Republicans to be more protective of them based on their protection of the First Amendment rights of corporations.

Furthermore, their attacks on collective bargaining that recently started in Wisconsin are a direct assault on the ability of unions to be an effective counter balance to corporations under the Citizens United decision. In the 2010 elections, the only organizations that came close to being able to spend as much as corporations were the unions. Thanks to the attack in Wisconsin, they have spent a large amount of their reserves fighting unjust legislation as opposed to political advertising. With the 2012 election campaigns getting started, this was timed very carefully by the Republican leadership.

The Republican party, as nearly as I can tell, is run by corporations, not the politicians. (Democrats are also heavily influenced by them, but still seem to think for themselves more often than not.) Corporations have only one driving motivator – profit. When corporations get involved in politics, their motivation does not change. Their goal is profit. However, in order to maximize their profit, they must maximize their power. They do not care about morals or the potential consequences for their grand-children, unless, of course, having “morals” serves the purpose of helping them get more power or profit. This is why it is extremely dangerous to confuse corporations with people.

The current level of influence corporations have in politics threatens our democracy in very real ways. Until we have the ability to regulate and restrict their influences legally and effectively, we are going to see a lot more radical capitalist agendas being pushed.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jesus was a Radical

Being a little radical can be a good thing. Look at Jesus. He was about as radical as they come, relative to the society in which he lived. He rebuilt religion completely, integrating only the most basic tenets, and almost none of the received interpretations. To me, this is one of His most important teachings: always do what you believe is right, regardless of what those around you are doing. This is the essence of radical moderatism - not pushing a radical agenda just to try something different, but rather to do away with something that is broken in order to rebuild it properly.
"No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse." (Mark 2:21 - KJV)
However, it's also very difficult to be truly radical in this way. Jesus did not have any money, he did not live in a home during most of his ministry. He had to do this to be able to be completely free of the social obligations that come from owning property and earning a living. I have met few people that dedicated to anything.

In the end Jesus was killed precisely because he was a radical. That was, of course, part of the Plan. However, it shows how difficult it is to be truly radical. If you ever start to become remotely successful, you become a threat. Sometimes only an act of God can truly fix a broken system.

Fortunately, I believe in miracles.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Barack Obama vs. John Stewart

The interview of Barack Obama by John Stewart on The Daily Show was the best political interview I have ever seen.

Here are a few reasons why:
  • Both men are very intelligent and well spoken
  • Stewart asked difficult questions, even though they are on the same political side
  • Both men listened to what the other was saying (rather than using the time to think of what they wanted to say next)
  • Neither was trying to manipulate the conversation to their best advantage or against the other
Overall, an interesting, informative and civil political conversation. Why aren't there more of these in the media?

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on Improving Public Education

We as Americans tend to look only at capitalist solutions to problems. Standardized testing is the equivalent of looking at a company's bottom line. School choice is obviously capitalist. My school district has apparently started selling advertising space targeting parents. The problem with these approaches is that universal education, by its very nature is a socialist institution. Unfortunately, the word "socialism" might as well be banned by the FCC, the way people use it. However, a well educated populace is VITAL to a healthy democracy, so, despite it's socialist nature, I would argue that public education is more important to democracy than is the free market.

If we can get over thinking of all things socialist as being of the devil, and embrace the socialist nature of public education, it might lead to improvements which are more harmonious with what our democracy needs from public education.

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