Friday, October 31, 2008

Us vs. Them

I've mused frequently on a topic which again came to mind this morning, so I thought I'd ask you all, dear readers, what your thoughts on the topic might be.  This is the topic about the styles of communication of representatives of the two major political parties in the United States.  The differences are stark, in my opinion, but at the same time somewhat subtle; the messages are certainly used to generate support in their respective "bases", but the fact is that those messages are in fact quite different.

Media attention has been put on the fact that John McCain, currently running for president, is "on the offensive."  He is striking out at his opponent, Barack Obama, and looking for negative things to say about Mr. Obama, his beliefs, and his alleged policies were he to be elected President.  McCain points out that Obama intends to raise taxes on the wealthiest of Americans, with the underlying implication that if one day any of the rest of us become wealthy, we wouldn't want those taxes.  Sarah Palin, McCain's vice-presidential running mate, has explicitly distinguished "Real Americans" from whoever those rest of us are.

Meanwhile, Obama, running on a platform of "change," is doing all that he can to bring the people together.  One could say that it's because he's in the lead; he doesn't need to sling mud at McCain and Palin because he has nothing to fear, but if we look back at previous Presidential campaigns we find this pattern repeated.  Indeed, it occurs outside of Presidential elections too: George W. Bush is famous for saying to the American public, "if you're not with us, you're against us" after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

So, is it just a matter of fact that the Republicans divine their power from dividing the population and the Democrats work to unify, or is this just a lame matter of perception because of the media I choose to consume?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

California Proposition 8 equals hate

I've been working on some posters to campaign against California's Proposition 8 which will put into the California constitution a line along the lines of, "Marriage is only recognized as being between a man and a woman."  While I am not a big fan of the institution myself, I don't believe that it's up to the state to encode the fundamentalist Christian thoughts on this issue into the constitution which at present is silent on the topic of marriage.

Religion aside, should there be a mechanism in our society for people to share assets and achieve survivorship when one partner dies?  Yes, there should be.  I feel it is unfortunate that such a mechanism comes with the religious underpinnings of "marriage," but that is the vehicle by which civil unions are made and exceptions for lifestyles and life choices that some individuals find disagreeable does nothing but fiscally punish those who are homosexual and who want to be able to make decisions for their partners when those partners are incapacitated.  How much does it cost to get married at the County Clerk's office, versus how much it costs to get the lawyers to draft powers of attorney and the other requisite documentation that is wholly unnecessary when the county recognizes two people as married?

Anyway, I've made a bunch of posters that are intended to be printed at Kinko's.  There's not a lot of time left, so chop chop!  The previews are at my facebook page and the PDFs and source material are in this ZIP file.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Revolution?

I've been reading Ron Paul's book The Revolution recently, and it's inspired me to write on similar topics.  I'd love to go point-by-point through the book, but that'd take a long time and I'm just borrowing the book from a colleague, so I'll just rattle off a blog-sized impression that I'm left with, and follow up on specific topics at some unknown point in the future.

The most immediate point to hit me while reading this book was that Paul offers many words to say tell the reader what the government should be doing, but does not follow it up with what the government should be doing.  The easy answer to this is that the government should only do what is written in the Constitution for it to be doing, but that sidesteps the issue for me; I was reading a book that wanted to tell me that the government's behavior needs to change, but it offered no particular insight on what should remain.

As any Ron Paul supporter likely knows, Paul's core statement is that the government should do less.  Fair enough; folks all over the political spectrum feel that the government is overstepping its authority on any number of topics, from gun control to abortion to corporate subsidies and tax breaks for select sets of individuals.  In some ways, Paul wraps all of this up and states that the government should do none of it.  Ultimately, the government should not meddle in anything.

Breaking into the book, I was hit by the feeling that Paul believes that the pursuit of profit is the purest and most noble of pursuits, the One True Path, within which we will all feel the light if it were only allowed to take place without government interference.  "Let the market decide," he says several dozen times throughout the book.

The problem, ultimately, is that by the time the market gets to decide, it is often too late.  Are there no things that we hold dear?  If we were to decide that the pursuit of profit is great and glorious, so let's sell off the national forests to the highest bidder and let them operate them however they wish, what will we do when they are clearcut and there are no more national forests?  Does it matter, if profit is made?  If it does matter, what can the market do to change the fact?  Indeed, in the case of pollution often the market has no choice; silicon is very toxic to produce but the population is eating up computer equipment at an incredible rate.  If IBM starts dumping their waste into the river, how long will it be until people find out?  How many individuals will be born with problems?  How many will develop chronic symptoms as a result?  What does the market decide then?

There's a lot going on in this book.  I thought it was a good read, even though I believe that Paul is way off base in some aspects of most of his points.  He comes from a much different background from the one I come from, and that fact alone colors his view of society in a much different hue from that of my own glasses.  I fundamentally agree with his motivation and I fundamentally agree with the sorts of things that he wants to do, but I just don't think that his end goal would be the United States that many of us want to be a part of.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Why the Democrats are (Sore) Losers

I put the parenthetical in because they (the party's representatives, that is, not in general the voters) are sore losers, but more to the point, they are in general losers. They can't figure out what it is they're trying to do, and as one of those bleeding-heart liberal gun nuts it kind of irritates me.

So the Dems for all intents and purposes swept the 2006 "mid-term" elections. They did so on the promise of stopping the war in Iraq, which largely is something that the population of the United States wanted. And here we are, a year later, and what's happened? Nothing. I'm getting a little off track, but what do you call someone who consistently doesn't do their duty? Especially an elected official who makes a pledge and then does nothing? Yeah, that's the game, nobody actually expects elected officials to do what they say; that'd be so last-century. They're still losers.

Yesterday I read this great news that Nader is suing the Democrats. What I find particularly hilarious are the comments. Nader cost the Democrats the elections in 2000 and 2004, indeed. Nader is therefore to blame for the lives lost in Iraq. Indeed. So Nader is responsible for this, and not all of the 200+ losers that are our elected representatives in Washington? Nader is responsible, but Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, both of whom actually voted to go to war are free of blame?

What cost the Dems the 2000 and 2004 elections was the fact that they didn't put forth candidates that resonated with the population. If they could put forward a candidate that was worth a dam maybe they'd get some of the voters who don't see the point of choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. So yeah, the Democrats are the big losers here, because they actually lost to Bush, but say they lost because of Nader? Bush got like ten thousand times the number of votes that Nader did. Blame him!

Ahh well, maybe they're content being losers. After all, it does somewhat guarantee that they won't have to actually make any decisions of their own, for which they'd subsequently be held accountable. It saddens me a little bit that the slate of Democrat contenders (at least, the ones that the press seem to care about, doing their bit for skewing public perception) for President are a bunch of nothings yet again, and it's amusing to me that the Republicans have a bunch of nothings in the press as well. There seem to be interesting candidates in the running, but the parties will never let those candidates win because that would ultimately upset their agendas. That, my dear friends, is what saddens me the most about our current political climate.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Liberty and Justice for All Corporations

Exxon really made headlines in 1989 when one of their tankers ran aground in Alaska, spilling an estimated 11 million gallons of crude oil. For the sake of scale, that's as if every single person in the New York City had a gallon jug filled with oil, and just poured it into the harbor. They were subsequently fined $5B for the mess, in part due to their gross negligence; the captain was drunk so he left command to a junior officer who allegedly had no business being in command.

This was an environmental tragedy, to be sure. However, Exxon has been appealing the judgement pretty much continuously since it originally came down, five years after the spill. They have had some successes and some setbacks, but they keep at it; at this time they've gotten the fine down to $2.5B but they've now managed to get the Supreme Court to hear the case on the grounds that it's excessive and unconstitutional. For crying out loud! Unconstitutional! A corporation is protected by the Constitution?

I have to wonder what the punishment would have been for an individual, had they accidentally dumped eleven million gallons of toxic waste into the ocean. Into a habitat which is now destroyed. Into a habitat where lots of things used to live. Into a habitat from which many people drew their livelihoods.

Yet, what has Exxon had to do? Nobody went to jail. They had to clean it up, but then it was their mess in the first place. Now they're complaining that despite making almost $40B a year, that a $2.5B fine is punitive?

The Washington Post and Wired have some articles on this travesty of Constitution Law.

On top of all this, Exxon now says it's paying too much in taxes? Its $40B in profit isn't enough, it needs more?!? So, they'll make more money, while the taxes that they don't pay need to be made up somewhere else. Who'll bear the burden then? The taxpayers. That sounds like a good idea!

In some ways it's inevitable. Corporations now have full protection under the law as citizens, but they have none of the restrictions. They can engage freely in international commerce, for instance. (Ask any Mexican national how easy it is to work in the United States, for a contrasting view.) When they violate the law, spewing toxins into our environment and harming the people, they get fined, then they negotiate and appeal their ways out of the fines, and nobody gets personally punished. "Cost of doing business." If the fines are less than the profit to be gained, it only makes business sense to violate the law and bring on environmental catastrophe; shareholders expect nothing less. Individuals still can't pull these stunts, though, because there's an actual personal cost involved. The person goes to jail.

Perhaps it's high time we actually hold people accountable for their actions. I propose that a corporation doing an action that would lead an individual to jail should be jointly served by the board members of that corporation, and they should not be tried as individuals but rather as a collective acting together in a common interest. Further, fines levied against a company should be directly charged to the shareholders. This might make the shareholders interested if the corporation is doing Bad Things, and maybe then the shareholders would care.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Indivisible? Indeed.

The Pledge of Allegiance tells us that the United States is "One Nation, Indivisible." Yeah, right. One only has to look at the hot topics in the US political landscape that that statement couldn't be further from the truth.

The political system that is in place depends on the populace being divided. The issues that keep the population battling one another, the black-and-white issues ranging from gun control to abortion to the death sentence to gay marriage to prayer in schools are well-selected because they keep people talking in these boolean terms; good versus evil, right versus wrong, Republican versus Democrat. The focus on these issues drag us away from the real issues facing our country. In part, how are we as a society trying to make ourselves better? Do we care about jobs going overseas? Is the war in Iraq a good thing (polls say the population doesn't support it, but the politicians largely seem to think we need to "stay the course")? How about the obesity "epidemic" that's facing us right now? Certainly the growing girth of our future generation is something that could stand some consideration from our leaders.

Yes, engineered are the messages. The politicians are focused on one thing, they want to be re-elected. The way they get re-elected is to have a substantial marketing budget, and that budget comes from campaign contributions, consisting largely of corporate contributions. Therefore it only seems logical that the politicians on the whole would wish to please their corporate masters and deflect any public attention to what they're actually doing in their respective seats of government.

It's sickening to me. Thus, this blog. Welcome.