Listening to the Rush Limbaugh Radio program is normally a call to duty for me, not a pleasure trip. But today the radio program made me smirk, then smile, then outright laugh out loud – LOL. The reason for this is my view of Republican politics from the outside looking in. Callers were complaining about how Mitt Romney “unfairly” beat-up on poor old Newt Gingrich in the Iowa caucuses and how Newt is retaliating with “unfair” ads in New Hampshire. The callers were complaining about the lies and untruths being thrown back and forth. But what made me actually laugh was when one caller actually said that these guys should hold back on all these lies until after the convention when they can throw them at the Democrats. They didn’t actually use these words, because that would mean that they actually would need to acknowledge conservatives’ modus operandi is to lie about those with whom they disagree. The Republican candidates have been telling their constituents for almost a year now that this is the most important election of our lifetime. Since it is so important we should make sure that we get it right. But, when conservatives say “get it right” they mean, “get it RIGHT.” They don’t want to measure what the American people want and use that measure to create a policy that it acceptable to the majority of Americans. Instead they want to explain to he electorate why the minority on the far right should impose their will on the rest of us by describing utopian visions of a right wing world that they imagine existed in the minds of our founding fathers. If only the founding fathers had this one vision. Unfortunately the reality is each founding father had agreed to compromise their personal visions to create a unified vision that no one agreed with 100%. And, the irony of today’s conservative situation is that these people have not learned the lesson of this compromising principle used to form their sacred documents of “The Constitution,” “The Declaration of Independence,” “The Magna Carta,” and the “Federalist Papers.” Now the rest of us are present as conservatives battle each other with lies, misunderstanding and misinterpretation. It is so nice to have them throw these things at each other instead of the rest of us. But it also makes me worry about the future. With all these lies going back and forth it is obvious to me that they will eventually settle on one version of “The Lie” they come to believe as true. It is frustrating for me to see the process laid out in plain sight watching people make bad choices. There is an opportunity to point out another world view while conservatives are searching for their own. There is an opportunity to point out how compromise is supposed to work. There is an opportunity to point out the futility of fighting each other for purity of vision and hopefully their fight will result in failure. But, of course failure is not guaranteed.


I have always had a question in the back of my mind nagging me to answer it. But, it has always been hard for me to figure out how the question should be asked. The problem, as it turns out, is in the formulation of the infrastructure needed to understand what the question means. The problem is in trying to understand the abstractions that describe the question and in the end formulate the answer.


In simple terms, the question isn’t really that complex. It starts out as – “Who am I?”


The question could have a simple answer if I am sufficiently satisfied with knowing my name and address and perhaps a few facts about my personal history. But, I was me before I had a history. I was me before I lived in this place. I was me before I had my name. So, the question remains – Who am I?


I have had this question nagging at me since before I was able to talk, let alone be able to express it. I tried to ask it when I was young, and before I realized that it was a philosophical question. I had this question in my mind before I knew about Rene Decartes and before I knew that other people might be trying to answer the same question on their own terms. I may have asked my parents when I was young, but I had already known that the answer would be disappointing by the time I was a teenager. The problem always was that, the answers, know matter who came up with them were always disappointing.


The problem was that the question in itself assumed that the words “who” “am” and “I” were predefined and held a certain understanding in themselves. They “sort of” defined themselves in the way we define them. Therefore the abstraction of these words always defined what the answer to the question was before it was asked. In order to answer the “real” question one needs to redefine what these words mean in a more complex and specific fashion. We need to understand that “who” does not really mean “which person?” out of any available persons. Instead, “who” means the entity of being and existing as distinguished  from the rest of the universe. The “who” is the distinction made between being and not being. The “who” is the distinction made between my being and your essence of being which is different from the matter that I occupy currently. In fact, I could take each atom of carbon in my body and exchange it for another completely different atom of carbon from a completely different location in space. I could continue to do this with every type of atom that makes up my body and I contend that I would still be me even if all my matter were replaced. That is because we believe that every single atom is exactly the same as every other atom of the same type. Nothing distinguishes one carbon 12 atom from another carbon 12 atom. They could all be exchanged. And such is the case for every other type of particle in our bodies. So, the “who” I refer to is an abstraction that means more than any single body that “I” may occupy.


And, while I am at it, we have problem with the ways in which the words “am” and “I” are abstracted in our thoughts. What do we mean by “am?” Am in English is a manifestation of the being verb. Being is a short cut for describing our existence. And, the heart of this question lies in the fundamental reality our existence. How do I exist? How is it that I exist? What does it mean to exist? All of these questions mean address slightly different aspects of the idea of existence even though none of us has any way of knowing anything other than existence. Why is it that I exist here and I don’t exist there? Why is it that I exist now and I don’t exist then? Will I exist again after I have exist now? This idea of existence becomes the abstraction for the concept of Heaven and Hell. When I exist after I have existed then I will exist in another place and time for eternity. Or, so we are lead to believe. The entire idea of the word “am” is caught up in the complex abstraction our understanding of being and not being.


And finally the reflexive understand of “I” is asked with the abstract understanding of the “I” that we refer to. I is understood to be the one asking the question. However, the I asking the question is no longer the same I after the question is asked. The whole abstraction of who the questioning I is is caught up in the belief that an entity exists longer than an instance. However, we all know that we change in time. We are no longer the same person that we were 1, 5, 10 years ago. The fact is that we really can never be the person we were a moment after we make a choice and we are those choices moment after moment. In fact the totalness of our story from birth until now are need to understand who the "I" refers to.


Even though the question “who am I?” seems like a simple easy six letter question in English it is perhaps the most complex question that we will ever ask. It is the personal accumulation of a life’s work. The question may never be answered because the effects that we have on those around us may effect generations. We can answer the question with a name and an address because that name and address are a place holder or an abstraction for who we are and the effect that we may have on the future. But the true answer is still left to be written.  






I will admit that I am a glutton for punishment. Whenever I have a radio nearby and I remember that  Rush Limbaugh is on the air I have an uncontrollable urge  to check in for 10 to 20 minutes and find out what he is ranting about. It almost always kicks up the ire in me and reminds me why I can’t get too complacent. It reminds me that there are people out there that believe this garbage and they will continue to believe it until they have an alternative point of view to put it against.

Today was another one of those days. I flipped on the radio and began to listen.

After all the commercials for the “fear” products. (Gold to hedge your bets on the economy, Privacy software, etc…) I heard Rush tell his audience how in America we live in a meritocracy. The definition of a is given to be how one rises to the top based on ones merit. This idea fits into the capitalist myth that the best products survive, the best ideas survive and the weaker things fail. The problem with this assertion is that counterexamples abound. Just look at Unix, Microsoft Windows and Apple OS to name a one. Windows trudges on in this capitalist system regardless of the fact that it is by far the worst of these three operating systems. The real truth is that the product with the most aggressive marketing wins, regardless of whether the marketing is true or false. And, products that have a market presence are more likely to maintain it than an equal newly introduced product. The bottom line is that products do not excel merely on their merit and neither do people.

In the case of people, marketing and prior standing are more important than merit. Now, I am not saying that merit does not mean anything. Of course merit is part of the equation. But it is certainly not the only nor the most important parameter in the equation. We can envision society having positions to fill in the shape of a pyramid. As one rises there are fewer and positions with higher and higher value. If we imagine that those at the top award the vacancies as they appear then they award them to there family and friends before they fill them with those who truly merit the positions. Therefore some of the positions will be awarded by merit, but for the most part family and friends will be rewarded first.

Imagine a simple example. I don’t believe that I need to specify names and companies, but the general family business is founded, grown and eventually passed on to an heir. In general, do you believe that the heir has earned the company through merit? It may be the case that some heirs may have made daddy proud, but to the point of being better than the average MBA? If a classmate to an heir had applied for the same position do you think that daddy would have used merit to determine who would get the job?

The point is, America is not a meritocracy. America has some aspects of a meritocracy, to the point that for positions in the upper reaches of society there are some open spaces for some new people to rise into that society. But by all means America’s upper reaches of society is not occupied exclusively by people who have earned the right to be there. This is a myth, and we all know this. The heirs to the “old” money in this country more than likely do not deserve their positions in the upper class. They were born into their positions. And, we all know this, because we know that Paris Hilton did not merit her money or her fame. And, neither do many other lesser known rich folk.

Every single one of us knows that people get hired because they know someone. Every single one of us knows people who are employed that do not deserve the position that they are in. Every single one of us knows that money talks and if you already have the money then you are more likely to be able to persuade people to do what you want regardless of the merit of an idea. The old boys network is a prime example of this in action. The old men in society are connected because of their interactions with each other. These networks are powerful enough to influence city councils, mayors and other politicians regardless of the merit of a project or proposal. Merit is secondary to the will of the few people who pull the strings. Perhaps when a couple of the old boys can’t come to an agreement, then they may give it to the people to decide. Then each side pours in the money in order to persuade the people to their side of the argument.

The conservative right knows this too. Rush Limbaugh knows this. Because, if they really believed that people in America rose in society because of merit, and they supported this idea, then they would certainly be advocating the inheritance tax as a means to force those freeloaders to earn the rewards of upper class positions in society by the merits of their actions and accomplishments rather than the wealth of their daddy. You just can’t rationally support the idea of a meritocracy and be for any form of passing wealth on to the next generation through anything but merit. And, the next generation should be given equal rewards for equal merit.  Students who excel should earn free education. Jobs should be awarded based on merit, not who you know. The old boys network should be seen as the Mafia network that it really is. Our society should not perpetuate the myth of a meritocracy until there is evidence that supports this as fact.

Anyway, thanks Rush for inspiring me to write another blog after being quiet for so many days.





I turned on the TV last week and I saw Sarah Palin sitting on the stage at a Tea Party Rally. I thought to myself – Is this going to make a difference? Then I began to listen to the anger and vitriol spouted on this stage. I couldn't understand the motivation. What was supposed to be the point? A couple of right wing extremists sitting on a stage with a bunch of people in the background. They were trying to have a coffee clutch in the middle of a crowd that didn't seem to know what was happening. At least, that's the way I saw it.


I took a step back and I wondered if this was progress or an error. Did the right invent a new type of protest. We didn't have a speaker shouting at the people telling them what they wanted to hear. Instead, we had a threesome on stage talking about how the country was going to Hell and something needed to be done about it. It was like acting out the conversation that had already gone on. People watching the TV could feel like they were there as new ideas were being determined. It was like the TV was a voyeur looking in as these people determined how to protest the administration. It was like being in the middle of a party and a couple of big shots got together to decide how to take over the town. But we were all sitting there watching them do it.


I guess this happens all the time. On the news talk shows people sit around and talk about politics all the time. And, talk shows like Oprah have live audiences. So there really isn't anything new there. But, putting the reality background together with the idea of a protest talk show has a new look and feel to it. And, creating this new look and feel makes people who generally resist the idea of protest marches more comfortable with the idea of protesting.


I am saying this, because it wasn't that long ago that we had thousands of people in the streets protesting the start of the Iraq war, or the xenophobic anti-immigration laws. And the very same people who currently identify with the Tea Party groups were complaining that the protesters were antithetical to how our Democracy was meant to function. I don't know how many times I was told that we have a representative democracy and we need to let our leaders make those unpopular decisions. These same people now feel differently – How hypocritical?


I read in the paper how 500 people gathered in a park in San Jose, CA (population of almost one million) to protest taxes yesterday, tax day. These 500 people seemed to get a lot of press for a mere 500 people. The media in 2003 was ignoring the larger anti-war protests. We had 500 people in our small town (population about 35,000). If anything I believe the anger about the Iraq war was greater and the segment of the population that cared about it was larger. And, here we are eight years later and we are still in Iraq.


So, I am not worried that these tea party activists will actually change anything. They may be angry. They may not believe the government. But, that isn't any different than the anti-war protesters. What I actually worry about are people that have this degree of anger and they also have a stock pile of weapons. Instead of lying down in the middle of San Francisco in order to block traffic, right wing extremists tend to join militias and they have the idea that they would rather die for their country instead of surrendering to the enemy. And, this fundamental breakdown in civil order is far scarier than anything that the anti-war protesters did – even when there were thousands more anti-war protesters than there are tea partiers.


On April 2 a radio show that I like to listen to (On The Media) presented us with an interesting dilemma. It turns out that right wing extremists that collect weapons and train for military operations are not treated the same as Islamists that would exhibit the same behavior. Daniel Levitas of On the Media states “In 2003, the 63-year-old Texan (William Krar) was caught with a sodium cyanide bomb, along with 60 pipe bombs and half a million rounds of ammunition. The Justice Department didn't make a big deal out of Krar. It just sent out a few low-level press releases. And it didn't call him a terrorist, a decision reflected in how it chose to prosecute him. They gave William Krar his full constitutional rights. He ended up pleading guilty, he had access to a lawyer - all the rest. You can compare that with how the Justice Department treated Jose Padilla, who was arrested in Chicago O’Hare. He was a former gang member who had been affiliated with al-Qaeda. None other than John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, interrupted a trip in Moscow, of all places, to announce in an international press conference the arrest of Padilla.”


I am sorry about the long quote, but this bias really bothers me and I wanted to present it correctly.


The way I see it is that it won't be long before these tea party activists realize that they aren't having any effect on the political process. After all, George W Bush was re-elected after it was discovered that Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Democrats may lose a few seats in Congress, but I don't think that the majority of Americans agree with the tea party extremists. Most Americans are in the middle and they see the protesters as out on the fringe. They don't like the far left or the far right. And, they will see that there are plenty of good things that the Democrats are doing, especially their own personal representatives. And, that means that the Democrats will be given a few more years to turn the country around and correct the errors inflicted on us by the Bush administration.


But, when this minority begins to feel that they don't have any control they may fall back on “the great equalizer,” as the gun was called in the Old West. A minority of one can become a majority in a crowded room with a gun. After all, this is the same philosophy that the Islamic extremists have used against us in recent years. But, our government has employed extreme measures to quell the threat of Islamic terrorists. Unfortunately our government has historically turned a blind eye to the militias that arm themselves in the rural areas of our country. People with a fear of Islamic terrorists should fear our homegrown domestic terrorists more. After all, these people already inhabit our country and they have stock piled weapons and they are training themselves in military techniques inside our country. All it takes is for one of these guys to get angry and we have a terrorist attack. And, the problem is that some of these guys get angry very easily.




Anger is in the air. Listen to right wing talk radio and it is as if we have been attacked. Read the conservative opinion pieces and we can learn that the world has changed for the worse. On Sunday night the vulgar language spewed out of the mouths of the minority in the sacred halls of congress. So, if conservatives have so much respect for tradition and the sanctity of the halls of history then why have they reacted as if the institution is crumbling before their very eyes? Why?

In order to answer this question one needs to understand how the levers of power are pulled. One needs to understand what is the real issue and what are the facades built to give the illusion of freedom, liberty and democracy in our country.

The real fight in the USA is between the property owners and those who are exploited to serve the property owners. This is a fight that has existed since the dawn of time. In ancient times when people first left their nomad ways and began to farm someone needed to control and oversee the operation of these farms. And, controlling the property had the advantage of controlling the flow of wealth not only to their family and friends, but also to future generations. The American Revolution was a struggle between the property owners in England placing claim on their property in the new world. When the Americans revolted the English property owners lost control and lost huge chunks of property.

Of course there will always be an owner to every bit of property, because property is needed to conduct business or provide a place to live. Property is a renewable resource that insures personal livelihood as well as future generations success. As our society has evolved from an agrarian society to a modern society our concept of property has expanded to include homes, factories, buildings, companies, intellectual property and other forms of capital. In a similar evolution the means to protect these things have evolved to into a complex set of laws and regulations that insure that property is passed on to future generations, and the rest of society is molded into a type of property that these property owners can use for the means of production.

If you have any doubts into what I am saying, them imagine the typical “company town” of the 19th or 20th centuries. A property owner has land in some remote location that he wishes to exploit. He advertises for people and brings them to his company town where every business is controlled by the land owner. Freedoms and liberty are sacrificed for the success of the company. However, the workers are paid a “fair wage” and never share in the profits in a boom year. The workers are treated as replaceable pieces in a machine and they are replaced when they are worn out. This is the ideal situation for a property owner, and to believe otherwise is to ignore history. If the property owner were allowed to capture people and force them into labor they surely would. Only anti-slavery laws stand in the way of this being a common practice. Slavery still exists in places where the property owners are able to hide the practice from the government's prying eyes. This is because this is the natural proclivity of the property owner – to find the cheapest and most efficient way to secure and expand his property for future generations.

Republicans are and have been the party of the property owners since the 1960s when the civil rights movement captured the Democrat party. The civil rights movement was mainly about saying that people who didn't own property had rights as well as those who did. Of course these ideas existed long before the 1960s, but these ideas had no real power because of the political illusions that existed to make people believe that they had a voice in government. Even today it is much more difficult for a laborer to gather support and be elected than it is for a property owner.

Laws have been made in very creative ways that limit the number of non-property owning law makers in government. This result in few law makers that are willing to change the status quo. And, as a result workers are treated as pieces in a machine where the cost of maintaining the pieces needs to be balanced against the cost of buying a new part. Some parts just wear out and that's just the price of doing business. Isn't it understandable then that property owners would become upset when they are told that the government wants them to maintain their machines?

Of course property owners are going to be upset with the situation. But they can not easily put voice these views in the public. This is because property owners are now a very small fraction of the population. Most people don't own their home and have few real assets. If these people realized that they were being exploited as they truly are, then they would rebel as the slaves of Haiti once did. The results wouldn't be great for anyone, but the property owners might suffer the worse fate – being stripped of their property.

Property owners have instead created a complex array of illusion and double talk to explain the situation. They have created the illusion that anyone can easily become a property owner with enough hard work, while they pay the average worker just enough to shelter and feed themselves. They have created the illusion that one brilliant idea will move a worker to riches beyond imagination while protecting the company's right to all intellectual property produced within the company. Property owners use the legal system to litigate any challenge such that the person with the deepest pockets prevails. It could even be argued that the quality of education in property owning communities is better than non-property owning areas. This discrepency in education allows the property owners to maintain control of the power structure.

As the curtain is pulled back from the levers of power it becomes more obvious as to why some people are angry about the passage of health care reform. The real problem however is how this anger is transmitted to the rest of society. People who are non-property owners should not be upset about this. Even small business owners should be happy that there will be a safety net when the banks call in their loans. Small businesses should realize that they are not the property owner for the most part, the bank is. If there is a possibility that you could find yourself begging for a handout, then you should realize that this health care reform law could help you in the long run.




Faith vs. Reason is the basic cultural divide in the US today. This divide isn’t as clear-cut as one might guess at first glance. “Faith in science” and “reasoned theology” have both surfaced over time. Faith and reason are tools that people have used to forward their personal self interest over the years as well. The details of what one believes to be faith becomes murky as time separates the epiphany event from the eager student new to the faith. Similarly new students in science need to believe that the previous scientists have used the proper methods and reasoning as they learn the lore of science. No modern scientist can reproduce every experiment that has built the edifice of knowledge that has given us the shoulders of giants that we now stand on. So, when we stand back and look at the regular people who are neither experts in religion or science we should be able to empathize with their confusion as to which they should pledge their allegiance.

The problem with this debate between faith and reason is that we all carry our personal bias into this debate. We have all learned how to look at the world from an early age and we carry that world view into the argument. We find it easy to persuade others with our same world view by using our common basic assumptions about the world as we argue for a world view that we already believe to be true. These two world views do not matter in our day-to-day living, and therefore they are not challenged on our day-to-day existence. However, these grand world views do have an impact on how we should govern ourselves, and how we view our purpose in the world.

The truth of the matter is that there really isn’t a dichotomy in world views. Instead, there is a plurality of world views. The reality is that there really isn’t a debate between faith and reason. Reality is not known by any of us, no matter which side of the debate that you fall on. Those on the reason side can only know for certain what we can measure for certain. But one knows that knowing everything is futile because we have limitations to those measurements. Those on the faith side of the argument are limited to communications with the supernatural no matter what faith one believes.

The bifurcation between faith and reason quickly breaks down into multiples of different communications with the supernatural and multiples of informed reason biased by the cultures from which the reasoner was born into. Even if one who reasons could understand the observable world one would certainly need to concede that there does exist an unobservable portion of the universe. And, finally ethics and morality can not be based solely on reason. Biology or mathematics can not tell us that stealing from our neighbor is wrong. We may observe that when someone steals from us we feel loss, but we can not prove that the loss is not a good thing. We know from example that pain can be good for us. We could even use logic to determine how to minimize human suffering, but we can not prove that this is a good thing in the long run.

For example, if we believe that evolution is the process in which humans have become reasoning beings. And, if we believe that reasoning beings can evolve into something even better. Then we must believe that beings that lack the new desired trait will eventually need to die before they can reproduce, because this is how evolution works. So, reasoning people are faced with a dilemma that can not be reasoned – Which is more important, the evolution of the species or the weak individual lacking the superior-trait? Our current culture biases us toward the individual, but it is only faith in this culture that prevents us from sliding into another way of looking at this. This faith has nothing to do with a superior being. Ancient societies believed that culling of the weak offspring would make the tribe stronger in the long run. With all of our understanding of the science of evolution we have chosen to allow our tribe to get weaker because of our cultural bias toward the weak.

It is our Christian culture that teaches us to feel pity for the weak in our society. If it wasn’t for Jesus telling us to feel pity for the poor, the sinners and the lepers then we might have continued to put these people out of our society for the good of our society. Today we take it on faith that Jesus was right, but God told Moses differently. This is a very complex argument with implications on our society for thousands of years into the future, but most of us haven’t thought about it. Even if we were to learn by some scientific method that there was a group of people that harm our society because of the genes that they carry, would we decide to make our future society better by removing them from breeding?

We can look at this problem from the other side as well. Those of faith believe in their hearts that a supreme being is molding our society with his hand. If the weak in our society can’t cut it, then this supreme being will put those people out of their misery. The more powerful are smiled on and they are able to have more children and pass their heritage down through the generations. Whether one believes in genes or evolution, this is how society has been working for eons. Believing in faith alone would be to continue this process. There are rules that are taken on faith and they can not be challenged, because to challenge the rules would be to challenge the whole system.

Our society exists in four dimensions, on earth in three dimensions, plus its projection into time. The question is – How long will our society exist into the future and why?

Man has evolved the ability to predict the future through reasoning. Or, man has been given the gift of predicting the future by reasoning from his creator. Either way, man has this ability and it should be used, either to honor his creator, or to further the success of the species. This fact should not be argued; both sides of the debate should agree on this. It is not a black or white question. Whether one believes in faith or science both camps should agree that man should further the existence of the species with reasoning. Man should exam the threats and reason for solutions to those threats.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this. Some believe that one should put complete faith in the supreme being. This attitude poisons the debate. And, in order to defend the position some on the side of faith will argue absolutes. This means that one should be absolutely sure of a problem before one should take preventative measures. This same argument would mean that no one should buy insurance even when the risk of danger is very high. Because, unless one is certain that their house will catch fire then one shouldn’t waste money on insurance. In addition, no one should repair a house unless one is certain that the house is going fall down. One shouldn’t learn to swim unless one is certain they will fall out of a boat, or into a pool. One should not learn to hunt unless one is certain that the stores will be shut down for weeks. One should just pray that nothing bad will happen, unless it is forewarned and certain.

The problem, of course, is that no one but God can be certain of anything. Even when a hurricane is baring down on the coast, it might just move to east and nothing happens to you. And by definition no one can be certain so no one should prepare for anything. This attitude ignores the gift of reason given to us by God or by evolution. It doesn’t really matter how we got the gift of reason, but it does matter that we use it.




It drives me crazy every time I hear someone utter the factually incorrect statement that the US has the greatest healthcare in the world. I heard it again today on a radio talk show and the comment wasn't even challenged. Of course this didn't surprise me, because this assertion is never challenged.

Now, to be fair, there are certain ways that the USA could be ranked number one in health care. If by "best" we mean "most expensive," then we might be in the running. However, if we would measure quality of health care as a function of healthy outcomes then the USA is not even close.

If we start by making the assumption that the goal of having a good health care system is to prolong life we might start by looking at the list of countries ranked by the number of deaths in a country per 1000 people living in the country. By looking at this list we see that the US is ranked about the center of the list ranked from highest to lowest -- 94th with a rate of about 8.1 deaths per 1000 out of over 200 countries. ( 2009 List by the CIA World Factbook) This does not tell us everything, but it does tell us that countries like Mexico have rates much lower than ours. Why?

There could be other problems just looking at this number, because some countries have younger populations than other countries. A younger country should have a lower death rate than an older country by the mere fact that everyone eventually dies. So, lets assume that the goal of health care is to allow people to live as long as possible. The measure of success then would be the life span of the average citizen in the country. If we rank countries from the longest life span to the shortest, we find the US ends up at 50th out of over 200 countries with an expected life span of 78.11 years, while Japan finishes near the top of the list with 82.12, Australia has 81.63 and Canada 81.23. With these numbers how can anyone still argue that the US has the best health care in the World?

What exactly is a person thinking when they claim that the US has the "best" health care in the World? How do they measure best? It is true that within the borders of the USA there exists some very good health care. And, it is true that if someone has unlimited resources they would be able to have access to some of this very good health care. The problem is that many people in the US do not have access to this care. And, hence these people pull the average life expectancy of the US down.

So, if someone asserts that the US has the best health care in the World they must be asserting that their own health care is part of the elite few that have access to this advanced health care. They are also asserting that they really don't care what happens to the population that does not have access to this elite care. Of course this is sad and selfish, but in the USA we do not have laws against being selfish and most people are numb to the suffering of others.

But, even the assertion that a person has access to the elite health care that exists in the USA is suspect. This is because many people are covered by insurance that they have only rarely used. This is because many people in the US never go to a doctor for a yearly physical. Insurance companies don't see any benefit in having people see a doctor on a yearly basis, because it costs them money and they are in the business of collecting revenue and figuring out ways to avoid paying any money out. Insurance companies are in the business of making a profit, and any layout goes against the bottom line. It isn't in the interest of the insurance company to care about the health of its customers. In fact, it is in their interest to see that their customers die in the cheapest way possible.

A person normally doesn't learn the effectiveness of their insurance until the insurance is needed. And, when the insurance is needed its too late to change coverage. And, when the insurance is needed the trauma of the situation clouds ones vision of the financial picture. Many people with what they believed to be "good" insurance find themselves bankrupted and embarrassed by finding out how poor their coverage was when they needed it. This embarrassment prevents them from sharing this with their family and friends.

The silent killer in the US health care system is the fact that health care costs have been rising over the last 20 years. People may have had favorable experiences with their insurance companies over the years, but their current situation may have changed over the years. Many procedures and drugs are no longer covered under some plans. Employers are buying cheaper coverage that covers less with higher deductibles and co-payment options. This means that more money comes out of your pocket before the insurance company pays anything.

Eighteen years ago the US was already a very expensive health care system. I know this from personal experience. My daughter was born in Germany in a private hospital. I was working for a US company and therefore my US insurance would cover the hospital and delivery costs in Germany. I just needed to get the bill and send it to the insurance company. As my wife went through prenatal care and through the birth of my daughter I submitted the bills to my health insurance company. The total at the end of the process was completely covered by my health insurance. And, the company could not believe that I had submitted all of the bills in total because the cost of my wife spending an additional three days in the hospital "should cost much more" as the insurance company wrote to tell me. The German bill noted each procedure and expense in meticulous detail -- even to the extent of pointing out that I was being charged an inflated cost because we were covered by private insurance.

The question we should be asking is -- Why was there such a disparity in cost between the US system costs and services and the German system? I would assert that it must be greed in the US system. I would also assert that greed itself is not illegal, but it preys on people when they are in very vulnerable situations. Greed in health care pushes suppliers to encourage patients to over spend. The emotional situation urges the loved ones of the ill to "do whatever is possible." There is no natural limitation to this spending except the bottom of each person's money supply.

I know that this greed is real from another personal experience. I was involved in a project to develop one of the first MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines. At that time we called it NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance), because the technique actually causes the atomic nuclei to resonate. When we talked with doctors they told us many quite interesting things that gave me insight into the health care industry.

The first thing they told us was that the word nuclear needed to be dropped, because nuclear was a scary word and people would not want to subject themselves to a machine that used nuclear anything. Of course, MRI is one of the safest forms of imaging, applying a magnetic field and electric field and measuring the magnitude of the resonance signal of particular nuclei in order to map the density of water in the body for example. This is much less dangerous than using X-rays that can cause mutations when they hit the DNA in a cell.

The next thing they told us was that the MRI pictures were three dimensional and multi colored. The colors did not look like the colors in the body, so it would be much better if we could make them look more like X-ray pictures. Obviously the doctors could not recognize the advantage of the new technology and they would prefer that the new technology was only slightly better than the older technology so that the doctors would be more likely to adopt the new technology. Obviously this is something to keep in mind whenever one takes a trip to the doctor.

And the most frightening revelation of all was that the doctors told us that they were happy that the new technology was cheaper to operate than the previous technology. But, it was new technology, therefore they could charge more for it. The most important implication was that the profit margin would be larger with the new technology.

The summary of this is that the doctors were willing to make the technology less effective, they were willing to lie to the patients by changing the name of the machine and they wanted a higher profit margin. I have to tell you that I have had a very skeptical view of all doctors because of this experience. I think that we should all be more skeptical.

When I was in Germany I noticed that the doctors were much more friendly and willing to share what they didn't understand as well as what they did understand. I felt more connected with the process. I felt like my questions were listened too and thought about. In the US this is much less frequently the case.

Anyway, I am still very confused at the assertion that the US has the best health care in the World. If anyone knows of any evidence that supports this I would love to read it. Please tell me what you know I am all ears.

 


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit



 

 




 

In the innocent times of childhood we once believed that money was the reward for hard work. Based on the idea that the more hours that you worked then the more money you earned.

But, those were innocent and naïve times. Many have come to believe that fortunes were made by other means. Making a quick buck by buying a lottery ticket and having your numbers selected is one of these ways, but the same principle applies to day traders, real estate speculators and even opportunists hoping create the next marking fad. None of these characters remotely care about the social good of their actions and many destroy our society bit by bit with their actions.

In America today we still have many people who dream about working hard and creating wealth through the sweat of their brow. However, the reality of this picture is people like Bill Gates who happened to be in the “right place” at the “right time.” Microsoft products were there first and captured a huge market share, but they have never been the best products on the market. Similarly clever slight of hand was able to create a good deal of wealth in the real estate market by providing cheap high risk loans to people and lying about the actual risk of the loans. The cheap supply of cash created a demand for real estate and drove property prices to unrealistic values. The property wasn’t actually earning value. The value was created by the demand of people who didn’t make enough money to actually pay for the house that they wanted. Everyone saw their house value increase and they advised to borrow money against the equity in their house. The initial lie about the risk of these loans propagated through the economy. Risk could no longer be trusted, but everyone was happy because they saw the value of their houses increasing over time.

No one asked themselves where this extra money was coming from. Everyone assumed that money in the form of value in their houses was a “good” thing. People believed that they were richer than they actually were. This is because the value of their house was based on what people were willing to pay for their house if they were to try to sell it. And, people were willing to pay lots of money that they didn’t actually have because banks were willing to loan tons of cash to people who could never really keep up their end of the bargain.

In America we have a belief that those who scam the system will pay the price and demonstrate to the rest of us the folly of their ways. People will see the risk and will no longer be tempted to repeat these activities. Unfortunately time is involved in this process. There is always a window of opportunity in which people are able to game the system, make their money and get out before the activity becomes illegal. Some people are able to amass great wealth and pass it down to their heirs for many generations. Once one has this wealth one is able to live off the money “earned” from the principle itself and hard work is no longer required. Money earned in this way and propagated through the generations is actually contrary to the American ideal of working hard to become successful. But, the protection of this capital in this system allows people to take very low risk and earn a high return if enough capital is put into play. Special laws have been written to protect these special fortunes. We can look at the Disney empire as an example of how copyright laws have been changed to protect the Disney interest in Mickey Mouse because Mickey is still such a cash cow. Special laws continue to be written to protect other industries as well – mainly to assure that these wealthy families like the heirs to McDonald fortune will never really need to work at a McDonald’s restaurant.

The whole system works in such a way that creating a perceived value for a commodity which is much higher than the actually work involved in creating the commodity. So, creating a demand for a virtual item by advertising and marking an imagined device without actually creating the device is one way to create an artificially high value. Even if the object does not really exist one could create demand for it based on hype. A quick fortune could easily be made by selling an envelope filled with sand if the hype is great enough. Maybe many people won’t buy their second envelope of “magic sand,” but then again some people will continue to believe the hype well into envelope number ten. Imagine how much money could be made if one percent of all Americans are convinced to buy one envelope of “magic sand” for $29.95. Should the “hard work” and “innovation” of the “magic sand” dealer be praised or punished?

The free market system tells us that the people will learn that magic sand is just ordinary sand and they won’t buy it any more. But the magic sand dealer knows that he can make some money and move on to magic tonic and magic rocks and continue to make money by exploiting the gullibility of the people. Regulation is one way to put a stop to this. And, arguments between free market advocates and regulation advocates continue while the magic sand dealer figures out new ways to sell his wares cloaked in new ways until he amasses enough money to never need to sell any more. Then he passes his wealth to his children and he can loan his money and demand extremely high rates of interest until there are regulations. Those who have no morals or sense of guilt will find ways to take advantage of the free markets and live perfectly comfortably while those of us who espouse to be caring members of society will continue to be taken advantage of while the regulation free market debates continue to waste time.

 

 

 

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Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

 





Last week I took a trip to France. When I got home I proceeded to tell people about my trip. As I was telling someone about the trip she had a very bipolar response. “How wonderful to have the opportunity to visit Paris -- not that I like the French.”

France, in my opinion, is a wonderful country. On the other hand the French actually prioritize a bit differently than the good ol’ USA. It seems like from the time that I could understand money I was taught through social interactions that money was the most important thing in life. Some people actually put God first, and others might say love or health are more important, but in practice Americans tend to behave as if money is goal number one. In fact, people who say that health is more important continue to reward those with the most money by giving them the best health care available. Those who say that love is most important continue to look down on the wealthy person who chooses a poorer lover than themselves. Women continue to seek money over love in our entertainment media. A happy ending in our culture is when everyone has enough money. Money can buy lovers, comfort, health, homes and businesses to make more money. How could anything else be more important?

Go to France and look around. Now, don’t get me wrong; money is still important in France. Fancy restaurants and hotels still cost money. But, people tend to find happiness in other things as well as money. For example, the simple ease to move around the country is subsidized by the government. The government decided that for the greater good of the society money would be collected from taxpayers and spent on an organized collection of connected transportation systems. In the USA the patchwork of inefficient transportation shows how non-directed capitalism fails at the higher level. Maybe after a thousand years the US system will evolve into something more efficient, but simply thinking it through at the beginning could have resulted in something much better. In this case efficiency ranked above money on the priority list, and it was a good thing.

Now, France is not Germany and efficiency does not always take priority. Many have argued that the French transportation system is not as efficient as the German one. All I can say is that both are much better than the US system. In France one thing that stands out above everything else is the regard for aesthetics. In the US many people do not even know what this word means, because it has been given such low priority in our culture. But, in France aesthetics ranks quite high among considered priorities.

One simple example of this contrast came at lunchtime the first day I was in France. The reason for my trip was to attend a biotech conference. I have attended many conferences of this sort in the US and Canada. A free lunch is usually served to encourage the participants to eat and wander around the booths belonging to the various companies specializing in biotech supplies. A typical lunch in the US consists of a cardboard box with a sandwich, chips, fruit, brownie and a set of plastic utensils. Lunches in Canada tend to have sandwiches stacked on a table, a fruit bowl, a couple of side dishes and a fancy desert table. In France, at least at this conference, there were place settings on a large number of tables. The plates were ceramic; the glasses were glass. Water was placed in the tables and the food was excellent. The difference between these lunches has to do with the value of aesthetics in the given cultures. Each culture defines the value of putting in the little extra effort required to make things pleasing above the practical value of nourishment alone. If the goal is nourishment and money takes priority, then we end up with the cardboard boxes filled with sandwiches.

Most people that complain about French socialism have never experienced French socialism. Socialism is a contract between the people and the government to do what is best for the people. American conservatives believe that laissez faire government is the best form of government. Of course the French actually invented the term laissez faire and the meaning has drifted over the years. Conservatives tend to think that laissez faire means let businesses rob the customers at will, and if they go to far, then the customers will realize it and stop doing business. The balance has to do with the amount of robbery a customer is willing to tolerate before the business loses that customer. Government regulation on the other hand draws lines in the sand as to where profit becomes robbery and cheating. Poisoning your customers is no longer limited by how fast they die, but by a reasonable expectation that customers should not be poisoned. After all, the government holds a stake in the outcome of businesses poisoning their customers, because the government pays for the healthcare of these poisoned customers in France.

The balance in France is between efficiency, aesthetics, social contract and laissez faire capitalism. And, because there is a balance there they don’t have the nightmare shortages of Soviet era socialism. Instead, France is actually a vacation place for many of the American wealthy who are willing to enjoy the French aesthetics, while they are unwilling to pay the small price in their taxes to have the same aesthetics at home in the USA. Its funny how that works.

Money certainly motivates the animal needs in a person. If you don’t have money and you live in the United States of America, then you could certainly find yourself living on the streets. Without money, food may only be found at a religious organization that will give you food if you listen to their pitch for their religion. Without money, you may get sick and die before you are able to get a doctor to help you recover from your illness. To a conservative, the threat of living without these basic needs should be the motivation to live the conservative lifestyle -- because it is safe.

Even after one has all one needs there are people who want more power, more things and more money. These are the people who value money very highly. And, in American culture it would be strange not to value money highly.

Another value that is often prioritized higher than money in France is education. The pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge instead of for the sake of earning power after graduation is evidenced in France by the number of bookstores doing a brisk business. A large number of titles were concerned with philosophy and art rather than business and investing. Obviously this is not a scientific study of what people study in school, but it seems apparent from bookstore displays that a large number of people seem to be interested in philosophy and art -- subjects not especially high paid or even desired in America. In the 1990s America lost the will to build the Superconducting Supercollider. Europe on the other hand has just completed building the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) as they spend money simply pursuing the question: What is matter?

America was not always like this. John F. Kennedy told us that we “…do not do these things because they are easy but, because they are hard” in his speech about landing a man on the moon. This was not the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of wealth and riches. Instead America went to the moon in an adventurous trip to appeal to the human imagination. Since the 1960s America has decided that the value of money trumps the value of discovery and exploration prompted by the pursuit of knowledge. Our American culture continues to suffer on these accounts as well. Slowly money has become value number one -- above knowledge, aesthetics, efficiency and even human compassion.

When I look at France I see that there is another way to order our priorities. Money does not need to be the number one issue at the top of our agenda. After all the greed that we allowed to percolate through Wall Street and the financial industries are the result of putting money ahead of everything else. The result was a few extremely wealthy people and the rest of us paying for their success. We are blamed because we wanted to be able to afford a home for our family, and they are praised for their imagination in creating new and exciting financial instruments. It only makes sense that a situation like this was bound to happen when we put money above all else. I hope that we learned our lesson.

Financially France is suffering like the rest of the world. Sales are down and people can’t afford everything that they might desire. But, I found that they are not suffering as much as we are, because they don’t place money at the top of the list. Instead they still have the love of family and friends. They are still able to share moments and build relationships. And, these things mean more to them at a cultural level than the money that they might have lost in the stock market or in the paper value of their home. In fact I witnessed a wonderful sight on my visit that proved to me that money was not the top priority -- at least for French students. I saw hundreds of students gather on the banks of the Seine a couple of hours before sunset to sit, eat and enjoy each other’s company. No one charged them to sit there. The police were not shooing them away so that the local businesses could make money off these hungry and thirsty students. The counterparts to these students in the USA are sitting around the computer or TV watching videos or playing video games -- they are working on their anti-social skills as opposed to their social skills. But, that’s what we can expect from a culture that is driven by the almighty dollar.




One of the major assumptions that we have in a capitalist free market system is that people acting in their self-interest will react for the greater good of our society. This assumption is flawed in several ways.

Let us look at an interesting example. During the 1970s an interesting phenomenon occurred with the birth of the Pet Rock. An entrepreneur discovered that he could market and sell rocks packed in little boxes and make millions of dollars. He acted in his self-interest to create a fad that basically moved rocks from one place to new places across the country. What greater good did this provide for society? We need to admit that this fellow was clever and creative, but his activity must also be described as a great waste of resources as well. In the end I am almost certain that very few of these rocks have been placed anywhere other than the backyard, and the container in the dump.

We could argue that people don’t buy pet rocks any more, so the system worked. Maybe we should overlook the great waste of resources created by this venture as part of the price that is paid for progress. However, pet rocks are not the only venture that wastes time, money and resources. In fact, the idea that people can make gold by selling rocks is alchemy made real today. With the modern idea that economics isn’t about the product, but only about the marketing we realize that this alchemy is the rule not the exception.

If we take a step back and try to look at the big picture we should realize that there is more to life than trying to figure out how to put more cash in your wallet. If this were the entire story then, why do we waste time following the laws? Why don’t we just go around and rob people at gunpoint? The fear of violence and jail might have something to do with that, but I would hope that people actually know that working within the system is good for our society. Even so, many people opt to take the easy way out and rob people but by hiding behind the rule of law. The seller of the pet rock didn’t break the law, but he broke the contract with society in which we try to make society better with my contribution to it.

There are so many ways that people do make society better through their area of business. Businesses make these decisions every day when they determine how they are going to develop their product. Do they consider safety, efficiency, and impact?

We only need to compare the Windows operating system to just about anything else out there to prove the point. The superiority of Apple computers to Windows PCs does not match the number of computers of each type sold. But, Apple learned its lesson when it marketed the Hell out of the iPod when Creative Technologies already had a much better product on the market. All, of the capitalist arguments for a free market don’t seem to prove the point. Instead, example seems to suggest that the biggest player with the largest backing comes out the winner, not the best product. Patents have been infringed upon and stolen from much less affluent people. Not, many people are willing to put in the same effort as the inventor of the intermittent windshield wipers was.

The point of this piece is not to argue the free market system, only to point out a weakness in it. In a fair world the free market system would most likely be a better system. In a world where people valued products that were good for society above products that were a waste of resources the system could work to make the world a better place. If people were rewarded for making society better rather than being rewarded for making a clever comment on the stupidity of the average person people would work for a better world instead of working to think up new ways to cheat the gullible out of their money.

Whether you believe it or not the average temperature of the Earth is increasing. There is clear data showing this. Similarly, whether you believe it or not more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will trap more heat. This is also clearly proven with data. As we burn more carbon based fuel that was trapped out of the atmosphere millions of years ago the thicker the blanket we have over our world. Only an idiot would not see that this is a bad combination.

Of course, a supporter of the “free market only” system would conclude that when people got too hot they would realize that there was a problem and they would no longer buy the carbon-based fuels that are causing the problem. There are several holes in this reasoning. First, how do we know when we are “too” hot? Second, how do we switch to something new when we do realize that we are “too” hot? Third, a lot of the problem isn’t the final result, but the chaotic weather patterns that result from the sudden heating of the Earth, how do we prevent the destruction?  Finally, when a customer has the option to pick between keeping the world just a little bit cooler or buying a new H2 Hummer -- what prevents the customer from rationalizing that the world won’t get “that much” hotter?

The purpose of the government is to protect us. No matter what your political persuasion is I am certain that I won’t find many people arguing with me on the assertion. The problems arise from the implementation of this idea of protection. Conservatives are the first to insist that a strong military will protect us from foreign threats and a strong police force will protect us from internal threats. Imagine if conservatives followed through on their idea that markets should be allowed to work to protect us. Everyone would put up as much money as they believed should go toward external and internal threats. Or, they should invent and improvise new ways of protecting ourselves. The markets would decide the best ideas. The best ideas would get the most money -- because they would be able to attach the highest level of support.

We all know that this would not work. Criminals would refuse to donate to the police force, because a weak police force is in their personal best interest. Many would refuse to send money to the military on ethical grounds as well as personal financial self-interest. Those who own the most property obviously demand the most protection, so the wealthy would need to beef up the various agencies and branches of the military. We would have everyone walking around armed because it would be cheaper to carry a gun than to hire a policeman to protect ones property.

If the job of government is to protect its people, then why is there a continuous argument about what the government should do? This is because the question of what protection of the people consists of. Should people be allowed to starve to death because they can’t afford food? Should people be allowed to die of a curable disease because they can’t afford the cure? Should diseases be allowed to spread through a community because the community can’t afford to pay for vaccinations? Should companies get money from the government to encourage development to spur job growth? What is protection and what is control?

Why should the government pay for education? What kind of protection is this?

With the election of Barack Obama there is a lot of talk about the new “New Deal” that this liberal Democrat is about to impose on us. I have seen people writing about the USA becoming the USSA -- The United Socialist States of America. Obviously I don’t agree with that. But, I do believe that there is a role for government to lead us as well as protect us.

If you are old enough to remember George H W Bush’s defeat to Bill Clinton you will also recall that he had a problem with “the vision thing.” In fact, if a country does not have leadership, then the country will grow in a random haphazard way. People need to be lead in a direction that will result in benefit to the common good, instead of benefit to the individual pocketbook.

Just think of the creativity that went into the creation of the Pet Rock. Or, for a more recent example, the Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO) and the pooling of high risk mortgages. The creation of these financial instruments was meant to benefit the creators and the cost to society was not even considered. The lack of government concern resulted in the collapse of many of our financial institutions. Because of the web woven by these institutions the government has finally realized that allowing nature take its course is much too high a price to pay for this selfishness.

I hope and pray that the last eight years has finally taught Americans a lesson in what the role of government should be. Government needs to lead its people. In order to lead a government leads vision and perspective. Government should not force and demand what its people should do, but rather it should lead by encouragement. Based on his campaign, Barack Obama’s vision includes a new green country and a lot of work that is needed to get us moving in that direction. With the proper encouragement there are many opportunities for new ideas, new jobs and new money to be made.





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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








One of the fundamental differences between English Law and American Law is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The Bush administration has fought continuously over the last seven years to erode this fundamental right.

The Bush crew has used fear to gradually work the American public into accepting the idea that the government knows better who is guilty and who is innocent. You would think that people on the right who fear that the government might take their weapons away would also fear this new threat. However, the conservatives’ self-righteousness has been able mask this fear. Conservatives tell themselves that they are above the law because they are good patriotic Americans. Obviously they should not fear that a government might choose to arrest them and hold them indefinitely.

Progressives know this fear a bit more personally. This is because progressives and conservatives don’t always show their opposition to the government in the same way. Progressives most notably tend to gather great numbers of people to stand outside events where the opposition is gathering. Progressives like Amy Goodman who is a reporter for a “real” left wing media program “Democracy Now - The War and Peace Report” have experienced guilt by association directly. She was reporting in the left wing protests at the Republican convention during August and she was beaten and thrown into jail with some of the protesters. She was with the protesters, therefore she must be one was the attitude of the police. This was a sad day in American history, and it got very little coverage in the mainstream media. How liberal is this media?

Any American from the left or right should shudder at the telling of this story. Eventually she was freed and not considered a terrorist. That may have been because she was palling around with liberal protesters and not a former 1960’s radical. Obviously there is some standard for this guilt by association that I really don’t understand. Are you guilty if you aid and abet a person who bombs abortion clinics, the Atlanta Olympics and then hide in the woods for a number of years? Are you guilty if you meet with a man that had been found guilty of a felony, served his time, changed his life and has become a force for good in his community? In the first case many pro-life supporters helped a wanted fugitive hide from the authorities while in the second case people are urged to question a presidential candidate’s ulterior motives.

Guilt by association works both ways so it makes sense that this form of slander should not be assumed to only work against your enemy. If we also consider the six degrees of separation that suggests that we are separated by as few as six contacts from any person in the country or perhaps the world we have a further need to worry about this dangerous concept of guilt by association. Where does it end? If someone you know has “palled around with terrorists” does that make them a terrorist by association. If they are a terrorist then doesn’t that make you one too?

In Biblical times guilt by association was one of the rules. People believed that they were punished directly for their sins. For example when we read about the man who was blind from birth Jesus is asked what sin he or his parents had committed. Isn’t this another form of guilt by association? Today’s Christians should remember that not only did Jesus heal this man, but he also pointed out that this man was not born blind as a punishment for either his sin or his parent’s sin.

And, what types of groups do we consider a danger to our national security? For example, a group that seeks secede portions of the country threatens the very makeup of our country. These groups exist around the country with various motivations and ideologies. Some of these groups lament the fall of the Confederacy and would like nothing better than for a new South to rise again. It would be hard to argue that a group that seeks to tear the fabric of the country apart would not be a terrorist group. After all, the main motivation behind this group is the destruction of the country, our country -- The USA.

A similar group exists in Alaska where a group would like to make Alaska an independent country. And interesting point here is that Sarah Palin, governor of the state of Alaska and current Republican Vice Presidential candidate has a husband that not only pals around with this group of secessionists but he is an active member. Perhaps we should not condemn Sarah Palin as a member of this group for merely associating with her husband. However, we should also consider the fact that Mrs. Palin does not just pal around with these people, but she also supports their cause as evidenced by her address to the secessionist party’s convention. Shouldn’t question Sarah Palin’s terrorist connections to these people?

The point of this diatribe today is to point out that it doesn’t matter if you talk to a liar, it does not make you a liar by association. If you share a meal with a thief as Jesus did, it does not make you a thief by association. If you have a business meeting with a former radical that has repented and served his punishment it does not make you a radical. The only way to prove that you are guilty of a crime is to prove it with the evidence -- Like a speech in front of radicals supporting their cause.






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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit









When times get tough, the tough get going.

This truism might be just be right, or it might be another piece of dogma used to summon the unity of the people to work together. Either way, it would be nice to have one of leaders step up and tell us that we need to work together to solve this mess.

In reality I don’t worry about the value that I lost in the stocks I own or the house that I own. The value was based on arbitrary amounts of money that people were willing to spend to buy similar items. Actually the value was based on the arbitrary amount of money that banks were willing to lend to people who were willing to invest that money in bad mortgages that were used to fuel the economy on all of that borrowed money. People took this artificial value out of their houses to pay for vacations and home entertainment centers. The money fueled manufactures of automobiles and other big ticket items that people buy on credit. But in this world of buying everything on credit we still have the last shoe to fall -- the easy credit line of credit cards. As our credit markets get tighter the crisis won’t be over until we stop getting those damn credit card offers in the mail.

The value of the stocks of all of the companies on Earth have been based on the future earning of these companies. These companies could have huge future projections when all of those earnings were based on people running up their credit card debt into the thousands of dollars. Reality won’t strike home until banks begin to put realistic limits on the credit that they extend.

In tough times people behave in erratic ways. That might be part of what we see in John McCain’s erratic behavior as of late. But, just because some people behave in erratic ways it doesn’t mean that we want our leaders to behave that way. In fact the test of our great leaders is based on what they do in tough times, not what they do when times are easy. In tough times people act erratic and we need our leader to calm their nerves and get them to behave like civilized people. That is the difference between civilized behavior and stoking the flames of rebellion and revolution that leads us to the destruction of our civilization. When John McCain stokes the flames of his frustrated supporters at his rallies he is reacting to them and not being the leader that we need.

In tough times we need a calm and cool leader who is willing to look the problem over, consult with the experts and make the wise decisions. And, as far as I can tell that leader is Barack Obama.





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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








I have written about greed before, and I am sure that I’ll write about it again. In capitalism the central motivation is the magic belief in self-interest.

I have been told by the loyalists on the right that greed is somehow magic. Greed drives the markets and those markets will be driven by greed to correct themselves. I have argued forever that greed AND information are needed for a market to work properly. However, disclosing information is often contrary to the greed incentive.

Let me try to illustrate this with a recent example. Suppose for a moment that you would like to upgrade your lifestyle and move into a bigger house. Normally this means that you would need to pay a higher price in order to move into that new house. However, when a real estate agent tells a potential buyer that one can afford this new house at a lower monthly payment (albeit temporary) one is easily persuaded into buying a house by using one of these sub-prime mortgages. Many of those tempted by these dangerous loans know about the adjustment of the mortgage interest rate -- but that’s three or five years down the road. When people are living month to month, how can they realistically think about three to five years down the road. And, perhaps they are even thinking: “What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll be kicked out of my house and I’ll either find a new low rate loan or I’ll go back to living in the apartment.” Greed in this respect is obviously encouraging people to get what they can for the moment and disregard any future consequences. In this case, most of the information about the consequences of the loan are right there for the home buyers to see, but the worst case scenario is a net gain. They buyers get to live in a nice house for a few years and then they are kicked out into their old situation when the interest rate jumps. The possibility of the house value falling is inconceivable and never mentioned. In this case greed encourages bad social behavior.

Conventional wisdom has it that one person’s greed is blunted by another person’s greed. If someone is trying get something for nothing they most likely have their hand in someone else’s pocket. That person should be motivated by greed to prevent that hand from removing any property. However, the principle of “time dilation” adds distortion to the picture. The problem is that greed also plays a role on this side of the relationship.

In a loan relationship the person loaning the money is expecting to receive additional money in the form of interest and fees in return for that loan. The motivation to loan money at a low interest rate comes in the form of a promise to get that higher interest rate some time later in the relationship. In other words, the initial rate is the bait used to lure in the prey that will pay higher rates over the majority of the life of the loan.

In this case the greed and patience of those who loan the money are believed to be rewarded when the interest rates readjust. However, those who make the loans are motivated by short-term greed to sell these loans and make the money up front, instead of waiting for the interest rate to adjust. Technically these loans are expected to be repaid -- but greed prevents the true risk of these loans from being communicated to the new owners of these loans. Without knowing the true risk one who purchases these loans can not assess the values and will often pay too much for the loans. If the information was there, then the purchasers would pay the proper price, or the loans may never had been made in the first place. The problem is the lack of information transmitted in these relationships.

This current crisis is only the most recent aberration in a system that has lost its moral compass when the regulators cease to regulate. Greed motivates industrial giants to have little disregard for the community around them. Greed motivates secrecy and deception when a troubled company is trying not to let the stockholders find out the truth -- the shareowners would jump ship and the stock price would plummet.

The point is greed is a force of self-interest, but we certainly know that self-interest is not always good for the community. Markets may be a mechanism that converts self-interest into community interest -- to some limited extent. But the markets do not automatically extend to making community life better, making the environment better, making health care better or even making our culture better. It is true that we work harder for our own self-interest. It is also true that fear of being caught breaking laws is often enough to modify anti-social behavior. But, there are people who have very little fear and they may take huge legal risks in dangerous market situations. And, this same lack of fear may also result in taking serious illegal risks as well. Without serious regulation these people will always take advantage of the system -- be it real or perceived.

On the other hand regulation sends a shiver of fear down the spine of most conservatives. They imagine regulations as the “know nothing” government setting out to “fix” the business of the country. It is quite obvious that a government bureaucracy can not do good things on the microscopic level where there are more exceptions than rules. But, government regulations do not have to dictate every action that business wants to take. Government regulations need to protect the honest business person from the dishonesty that greed temps in every person. Why should a businessman remain honest when he sees his fellow businessman rake in the cash because he disregarded the spirit of the law?

Regulations and the enforcement of those regulations are meant to keep the playing field even for all those who participate in the markets. Under that premise regulations and a free market can share the stage. The greed that drives these markets will still exist, but it will be tempered by regulations that will force legal creativity slightly less profit instead of the illegal creativity that allowed people to pillage the ignorant with loans that could not be afforded by those that were just as greedily seeking short term gains and ignoring the long term repercussions.




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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








I don’t know if there really was a time when our government actually worked for us and not for the special interests. But, I do know that there were times when national security took precedence over those lobbyists that were putting all that money in our leader’s pockets. There always seemed to be an unwritten rule that congressmen would do what they wanted in an effort to allow the American people to get something out of the wheels of government. But, when it came to national security then the entire congress would make the effort to be cooperative and get something done in a positive way for the American people.

Of course, this effort to work in unity requires a bit of trust. A congressmen needs to make the assumption that the rest of the congressmen had the same desire to get the “right” thing done for the American people.

After 9/11/2001 the country had a rare moment of unity. We all believed that only the most unpatriotic person would desire to take advantage of a situation of national emergency. At the time we were under the impression that our president would learn what he could about the situation and do the “right” thing.

Only years later did we learn that the president and his administration had his own personal agenda. We have since learned that the George W Bush administration made an effort to distort the facts and present the best case for war in Iraq. Instead of a healthy public debate on this serious endeavor we were told to trust the president and hurry forward with this urgent solution. Similarly the so-called Patriot Act was named in an order to cloud the true nature of this bill. The Patriot Act is known to take away the liberty of many patriotic Americans -- but it was urged by the president for congress to pass the bill without actually debating it. Ironically the Patriot Act was undemocratically railroaded through congress resulting in the loss of some American liberty. And, this effort was only possible because the congress trusted the president to have the security of the American people at heart.

As the old Chinese Proverb says, “Fool me once shame on you fool me twice shame on me.” And congress has learned its lesson; it will be a very long time before the congress will trust the word of a president and act on his word alone without debate or supporting evidence.

Is it any wonder that when the Secretary of the Treasury asks the congress for $700 Billion dollars that he can do whatever he deems necessary to fix whatever problems he happens to find with the financial banking crisis that we should view his motives with suspicion? Of course we should worry that a treasury secretary with only a few months left before he gets back to his area of interest -- the financial banking industry -- he just might be planning a bailout for himself and his friends. There currently isn’t any reason that we should trust the Bush administration or anyone associated with them to do the “right” thing. In fact it is more prudent to expect that they have some other motive than national security. Of course it is up to us and the media to find out what that motive is.

This crisis illuminates a few things.

First, in order for any government to work there needs to be a level of trust between those in the government in order for any swift action to take place. When that trust is broken the government can no longer function. If the citizens understand this, then they can vote in new representatives that share some level of trust. But, when the trust disappears then we have an adversarial system destined to do nothing at all. As long as the rule of law continues without trust then we are stuck.

Second, if we have a lack of trust in our government, then imagine the level of mistrust in Iraq where many members of the government have lost family members and the enemy is sitting across the aisle. How can trust be restored in a government like that?

Third, Republicans have always recited than mantra of Democrats equal special interests. But, Republicans have their own set of special interests -- the financial banking industry.

Fourth, our economic system needs a set of rules that are enforced to protect the average person from being swindled. These laws shouldn’t allow the temptation of cheap money now for an expensive repayment schedule in the future be allowed. This, after all, is the kernel of the issue that brought the financial industry to begging in the streets. And, begging in the streets is so unbecoming.

Fifth, if the capitalist system is to work then there needs to be a significant loss for those that took the risk of creating these adjustable rate mortgages and conned people into buying them. The people that made these decisions should be thrown out on the streets and replaced by a whole new group of people that are willing to revamp the system. Allowing these people to walk away without losing their shirts will encourage them to try something just as ridiculous again in the future. If these people don’t feel financial punishment for taking a stupid risk, then they will risk our economy again.

How can our capitalist economy survive without trust?

When we go to the store to buy a CD we trust that the CD will have the music we want on it. When we buy food at the store we trust that we won’t be poisoned when we eat the food. When we buy a new car we trust that it will work for a significant amount of time before we need to buy a new one. Trust is how our economy works and how our country runs.

But, there is an undercurrent in our country that puts weight on deception. In some circles people believe that one is clever for selling something that isn’t worth the price paid. Keeping the truth a secret is the key to making as much money as one can from this deception. Once the truth is out, then the product can no longer be sold for a significant profit. However, the clever person is sure to be up to the next great deception that will earn another tidy profit until its discovered as well. The justification for this action is that no one will pay more than the market will bear. If people are willing to pay more then there must be some value that they are paying for. The untold truth is that the premium is due to lack of information flow. And a market without access to the truth is not a fair market.

Imagine bundles of adjustable rate mortgages sold for the potential premium increase once the teaser rate expires. The purchasers are expecting a large future payoff, while the people making the payment are not prepared to pay the new rate when mortgage payment doubles or triples. It is a train-wreck waiting to happen. And, these bankers have the Republicans in congress in their pockets because the have been financing their campaigns for years. The sad thing is that the people who created this junk no longer bear responsibility because they sold these bundles to unaware investors who believed the ratings of these loans. Once again fundamental trust was lost.

We will one day recover from this mess. Hopefully it will be sooner than later. However, it will take a long time for us to recover the naïve trust that we once had in our financial system, our government and our country.








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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit







Dan Quayle, Gerald Ford, Spiro Agnew and now Sarah Palin - Why do Republicans choose such horrid Vice Presidents?

Even though Richard Nixon said “Just don’t ever put me on the couch,” in reference to his fear of what he might find out if he were psychoanalyzed I will attempt to ask and answer some of these various questions from the psychology of fear.

In general I think that it is safe to assert that politics is driven by fear. In support of this assertion I would draw your attention to the great success of negative advertising when compared to positive advertising. In general people are afraid that their leaders will take advantage of the power that we entrust them with.

Since we all know that there are many things to be afraid of I would suggest that people align themselves with people of similar fears. Here are a few fears, and I would suggest that after reading each fear it will become apparent which political party embraces that fear in order to create that critical mass needed to secure that 51% needed to govern.

1) Fear that a foreign power will invade the USA.
2) Fear that employers will take advantage of their employees.
3) Fear that minorities are being mistreated.
4) Fear that the government will take away private property rights.
5) Fear that American culture will be destroyed by the invasion of foreign culture.
6) Fear that we are slowly destroying our planet with pollution and other destruction.
7) Fear that minorities will take over and force the WASPs into subjugation.
8) Fear that religious zealots will write religious doctrine into public law.
9) Fear that criminals will destroy social order.
10) Fear that the Government will take away our basic rights.

Obviously there are more fears professed by each political group. Some people might suggest that they are fearful of all of these things while other will suggest that they are fearful of very few of these things. However, each and everyone of us can take these fears and order them from top worry to least worry. And, in doing so looking at your top 5 of these will point your political arrow in the direction of your preferred political party.

By grouping our fears together the American political parties have created two methods to deal with these collections of fears. The Republicans have a collective fear that we are not safe from threats on our current “way of life.” These threats define our “way of life” as American culture of prosperity in which the wealthy deserve to have what they have and their property must be protected at all costs. Religion, social status, and current lifestyle are all threatened. The Republican solution to this threat is to fund the military to excess, keep the government small and weak, and protect the every symbol of current American culture, such as religion, corporations and to the extent that they don’t threat corporation - small businesses.

The Democrats have a collective fear that authority in general can and will threaten our current “way of life” and they also fear that the status quo has been taking advantage of many of us by virtue of current social status. The Democrat’s solution to these fears is attempt to make laws limiting these abuses of power, and forcing those who break those laws to pay for breaking the laws. Regulations and the enforcement of those regulations are thought to keep those abusers on the straight and narrow.

We can see that in general both groups fear being taken advantage of, but the potential abusers are different for each group. Republicans fear those that don’t know or don’t understand - foreigners and the poor who they perceive as criminals. As an extension since these poor are employed by the government they fear that these poor will force property owners to sacrifice some of their property. Democrats fear the abuse of authority that can be used to take away human rights, wages, and simple sustenance. By virtue of these fears Republicans tend to be the party of wealth, corporate power, and religious authority. And, Democrats tend to see the majority of those being abused being from the working class, minorities these diverse groups are welcomed into the party and their different cultures are celebrated. Since Democrats see the abuse of corporations toward workers and the environment as ground zero in this battle a common cause is enough and social status is less important than the protection of it that is sought by the Republicans.

What this means is that certain personality types are attracted to each political party. People who fear that they will be taken out by an aggressive social climber are more likely to be members of the Republican party. And, this leads me back to my original question. Why do Republicans makes such horrible choices for Vice President. I would put forth the conjecture that Republican Presidential nominees fear those who might show them up. In order to insure against this these nominees select their Vice Presidents from the bottom of the list, rather than the top.





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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








It’s not what you have, but what you believe you can have that drives the American economy.

We should all understand that Republican fiscal ideology is focused on benefits for the wealthy. It costs the wealthy too much to help out those down on their luck, so we shouldn’t do it is the Republican mantra. However, in marketing this to the common man the Republicans normally drop “the wealthy” modifier and change “down on their luck” to “welfare cheating scum buckets” or some other derogatory adjective.

As Senator Phil Gram, the former Texas A&M economics professor, tells us that the economy is not as bad as we are imagining. Senator Gram said, “We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline despite a major export boom that is the primary reason that growth continues in the economy.” Now, Senator Gram is pulling a Republican fast one on us here. What is more important to the average man, being able to feed his family or Apple being able to make a huge profit selling more iPods? If the man is an executive at Apple then the question is one and the same, but if he isn’t there will be layers of a complex economy clouding the issue.

If your paycheck has been constant over the last few years, and the price of gasoline and food have gone up, then you will be feeling the pinch. If your pay check has gone up by more than the cost of gasoline and food over the last few years, then I would venture to guess that you aren’t hurting so bad. So, I’ll ask - is Senator Gram right when he says, “the constant drubbing of the media on the economy's problems is one reason people have lost confidence.” Maybe it is one reason, but I’m guessing that to those on the lower end of the economic scale will be feeling more than what they are told by the media.

In America, though, we have some expectations when it comes to economic status. Expectations may be good, and they may be bad. Either way we need to remember that they are expectations and not reality. In fact success in America is measured by certain expectations. If a person meets or exceeds those expectations we have celebrations and fan fare. And, when those expectations are not met, then a person’s fiscal failings are kept in the shadows, something that we would rather not talk about. Fiscal failings are considered a source of embarrassment for the man down on his luck. But, if this information is kept hidden and not spoken about, then no one really knows if the expectations are even reasonable.

In America people have accepted that they should be better off in every proceeding year from the last. A small cost of living raise serves as an illusion to this expectation, while it shows a rising wage, it doesn’t always even match inflation. When a company is doing well they will often compensate the employees, but these compensations aren’t always justified in their distributions. Truth be told, fiscal failings behind common expectations are the rule rather than the exception. Americans have discovered how to continue the illusion in the face of this failure to meet expectations. Americans have taken to borrowing money in order to appear that they have exceeded expectations.

American expectations plaque the American economy in many ways.

The entire mortgage crisis that has recently burst the housing market bubble was caused by people meaning to appear to meet the expectations of the American dream. People bought into the idea that things were going to be better further down the road. They deluded themselves into believing that five years down the road they would be able to pay the mortgage when the payment jumped in their sub-prime loan.

Let me take the example of our neighbors, who confided recently that they will be moving out of their house. Five years ago when they bought the house they were able to do so by borrowing the money at a low interest rate. Even with that low interest rate they still had to make a $3000 per month mortgage payment. I don’t really know what they were thinking when they were told that in five years the payment would jump to $6000 per month. They were able to make the $3000 per month payments by having several families live in the same house and pool their resources. In addition one of the women in the house opened a day care in the house to take care of the children a raise a bit of extra cash. I could imagine that they might have been thinking that they could increase the number of children that they took in to significantly defray the cost when the payment jumped. They could have been thinking that they would all be making double their wages in five years and hence have the additional money needed when the payment jumped. Maybe they were thinking that they could double the number of occupants in the house over the next five years so that they could make the payment when it doubled. I don’t know what they were thinking, but whatever it was they were not able to make it happen; so they will be moving out of their house shortly.

The whole story above was forced into play by unreasonable expectations. The people moved into that house because they had expectations that they should be living in this house that was beyond their means. But, in America we have expectations that anyone should be able to “make it” if they work hard. They people living in this house accepted those expectations and proceeded the best way they knew. They set up an illegal day care and tried to make some extra cash. They work extra long hours putting in as many as they could, leaving in the morning before sunrise and getting home long after sunset. The main obstacle was not motivation or ingenuity. Their main obstacle was the expectation.

Expecting success often delivers success. A person is often motivated to work hard just believing that success will find a way. Many people, myself included, have operated under this premise. The ugly truth, however, is that many people also fail to meet these expectations following these same principles. Success or failure is not conditioned on how much work is put into an endeavor. Success or failure happens for many unforeseen reasons. And, because the reasons are unforeseen each individual that succeeds succeeds mainly because of luck. And, the entire concept of success is nestled in the expectations for the endeavor itself.

So, American entrepreneurial spirit is based on expectations. Entrepreneurs expect to invest time, energy and resources into a risky venture and succeed in producing something new and novel. This type of expectation is good for America and infects the American society with the can-do rags-to-riches mentality. But, if everyone in the country comes to expect that they to can become wealthy by selling shlock that no one wants or needs to the next guy, then that entrepreneurial spirit has changed from a net positive to a net negative for American society as a whole. And, the only real thing that has changed in this equation is the expectation. People once believed that innovation was a key to make a new product worthwhile has been changed into the belief that slick marketing can sell any old crap to anyone and make the seller wealthy. People won’t by crap was once the counter to this argument. But the real life counter example to that argument is how many people bought Windows computers and operating systems instead of much better alternatives such as Unix. The legacy lives on unfortunately. Marketing outmaneuvers substance.

Marketing after all is all about expectations. Marketing starts out by telling you what you should expect, then it claims to fill that expectation with the perfect product. Since America is the capital of the capitalist world we shouldn’t expect anything different than the marketing of many unfulfilled expectations and products that can’t fill them.

Since the Great Depression and FDR calling for Americans to expect a chicken in every pot our expectations have continued to grow with American marketing machine. Chickens in our pots, Cars in our garages, houses on our golf courses and yachts on our rivers and lakes we finally expect that we should control the world itself. Obviously we can always create expectations that are higher than we can realistically achieve and we most likely will continue to do so. And, when we do so how will we be able to know which expectations are reasonable and which ones are not?

Well, perhaps Senator Gram has an answer for that as well. When he lashes out and calls us a nation of whiners, then perhaps we will know that our expectations are a bit too high. Or, perhaps his expectations are too low?



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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit






Religion is serious stuff.

Politics is also serious stuff.

Faith is the belief in something without having proof. Once you believe in what you can not see or hear or even imagine everything else becomes so much easier to ignore, deny or denounce.

Politics is using what you have to do what you can to make things the way you want them to be. It seems to me that religion could really mess that up or it could help you get that done.

As a very skeptical Roman Catholic deist I am offended by the remarks of James Dobson, the famous preacher and leader of Focus on the Family. In referring to a speech the Barack Obama made two years ago he claims that the Senator was making stuff up when it came to his thoughts on religion. Actually when it comes to religion everyone is making stuff up and trying to imply that God gave them the very answer that they are seeking. But, by looking at the many different religions and all of their various answers it is clear that none of these religions has the total truth to themselves. Barack Obama was making this very valid point with respect to the relationship between religion and politics. And, James Dobson, fearful of the truth in Barack’s point began doing what conservatives of little substance seem to do lately. They begin name calling.

The question seems to be - If you represent a group of people with various religious beliefs, do you impose your own beliefs on them or do you respect the broad variety of beliefs in your constituency when you make your decisions?

Be careful in your thinking here, because this is a fundamental point of contention between the political parties and politics in America at the present time.

Many issues might hinge on how you should make your decisions here if you were elected to public office. Lets look at the Death Penalty. If you are a Roman Catholic from a largely protestant district you would likely find yourself in conflict with you constituency on this issue. Roman Catholics are taught to respect life, all life and they are taught that man should not take that life away. They are opposed to the Death Penalty, without any exceptions. But, a district composed mainly of American Protestants are more likely to believe that death is the right punishment for some crimes. So, how does a man vote on this issue with this conflict in mind?

This is not an unusual situation in our day and age. For example, most governors will be asked to intervene in the carrying out of a death penalty sentence. The governor is generally the final appeal. If that governor happens to be a religious Catholic he would be caught between his religion and the duty of his office. And, most governors do not prevent the execution of any prisoner in their state even the Roman Catholic ones.

So, when James Dobson criticizes Barack Obama for standing up for the many different opinions on the subject of abortion he is going against the same ethics that supports a politician’s decision to work for the common good of the people. Barack Obama isn’t saying anything different than what the various Catholic governors of the various states have said and done regarding the death penalty. Barack Obama is telling us that most Christians do not follow every facet of the Bible in the same way. Some may shun eating shellfish and pork, grow their locks long and shave their bride’s head, but most of us don’t. Some Christian sects emphasize Baptism and others emphasize Pentecost. As a society we do not need to debate which of these is the most important. Although, within our particular religious environments we may feel obligated to do just that. And, Barack Obama was clearly pointing this out in his speech of two years ago.

On the other hand, James Dobson doesn’t really care what the majority of people feel about these issues. Instead he would like to impose his will (even though he likes to call it God’s Will) on the majority of Americans. In James Dobson’s world a ruling elite would determine which religious values should dictate to the rest of the world. That’s funny, but this sounds a lot like the Islamic Fascism that the conservatives have been warning us about. But, instead of Islamic Fascism this would be Christian Fascism. And, I believe that as long as the rules of Christian Fascism agree with James Dobson then he would be OK with it.

This setup gives religion a direct line of control to the governing of the people. The religion tells the leaders what to do. Since they are religious they must follow their religion and not the will of the larger group of people. Therefore the religion dictates what laws are made based on the religion of the majority in government. So, the goal is to elect these non-thinking religious zealots into power and the religion in power makes the laws.

So, it comes down to this. Do we want leaders who rule by looking and the facts and making the best decisions based on these facts? Or, do we want leaders who are religious automatons that merely do what their religion teaches them to do regardless of the facts? Obviously this is your call - vote!




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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit






After the attacks on 9/11/2001 many Americans pulled their heads out of the sand and began to ask why anyone would want to do anything so horrible to us. Bill Maher famously asked the same questions in what seemed to a too sympathetic way, by going against the common wisdom of the time. The common wisdom proclaimed that the terrorists were cowards. Bill Maher pointed out: "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly." Bill was attempting to try to understand why the terrorists would attack us. He was pointing out in a very insightful way that the common wisdom of the time was not even close to being honest. And this brilliant insight got him fired.

The Chinese warrior and writer Sun Tzu wrote “know your enemy” before going into battle. If “you know your enemy and know yourself,” he wrote, “you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” But, Sun Tzu warned, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”

As Americans we need to examine the current conflict that we have with many of the residents of the Middle East. We need to know why some of these people want to do us harm. And, if we fail to ask the right questions and answer them honestly then, as Sun Tzu taught, we will suffer defeat.

I know that this doesn’t sound positive. But, being positive alone isn’t going to beat the enemy. Looking honestly at the problems that we face is the only way to fix those problems before we suffer once again. It is interesting that the neo-conservatives, the Bush administration and everyone else that has been so gung-ho about fighting “Islamic Fascism” haven’t spent the time to consider the reality involved in this fight. What is the goal, and what does victory look like? If we are fighting Islamic Fascism, we should know why the enemy is attracted to this ideology. Or, for that matter, if this is even the correct way to describe the enemy.

As I said above, before we can win we need to know our enemy. So, who is it that we are fighting and why are they fighting us, the USA?

Since we have linked the 9/11/2001 bombings to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden we should begin with what he tells us. He communicates with his group, his allies and with us and he tells us everything that we should know about him. But, because of the fear of our enemy the media is quite lax in publicizing what he says. Without getting involved in the bin Laden view of the world we can cut to the chase and discover what al Qaeda intends to do in order to win this war.

Osama bin Laden tells us that there are three ways he intends to attack us and win this conflict:

1) He wants us to spend ourselves into bankruptcy and waste our resources.
2) He wants us to spread our military strength thin by fighting the enemy around the world.
3) And, He wants us to become disorganized through political infighting.

By understanding what our enemy wants us to do, we can evaluate if we are fighting our enemy properly.

How are we fighting the “War on Terror?” First of all, we have determined to spend billions of dollars fighting a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We began the war by destroying these countries with our massive weapons. We don't have the actual cash on hand to fight these wars, so we are borrowing money to fight these wars. In fact, the majority of the money that we are borrowing is being loaned to us by China. What happens if we continue to borrow until we have borrowed so much that we are no longer able to repay our debt? They call that bankruptcy.

Now, where are we fighting the “War on Terror?” First of all we collected our allies together and invaded Afghanistan. This seemed to make sense because the Taliban had given refuge to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda collected themselves and found cover in the border region between the two countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The territory is steep and difficult, but a surge of 200,000 troops concentrated in this area with the cooperation of Afghanistan (the government we put into power) and Pakistan (our long time ally) could have weeded out the enemy and we could have put an end to this a long time ago. However, we have less than 50,000 troops in Afghanistan mainly walking around looking for Taliban remains. The success of shooing the Taliban out of the cities and into the Mountains was so encouraging that George W Bush and his cohorts determined that invading Iraq would be the best thing to do. After 5 years of occupation many military leaders continue to remind us that we have spread ourselves quite thin. As to the political infighting, the polarization of our country started long before al Qaeda attacked us the first time. However, the stupidity of the Iraq War and how it has been run has only increased the political infighting. The possibility of real political unity appears to be some remote hallucination based in fiction.

My conclusion is that we must be losing the “War on Terror” because we are accomplishing every goal of al Qaeda based merely on the threat of another terrorist attack. They attacked us, and we are doing their bidding. Why would they attack us again if we are already doing what they want us to do?

Terrorism works by intimidation. They motivate us with fear and we do what they want us to do. It looks like the terrorists are getting what they want. The terrorists know that despite what John McCain might want we aren’t likely to stay in Iraq for 100 years. The terrorists operate on a Middle East time clock, a clock that works on a scale of 1000 years instead of the instant gratification clock that most Americans operate on. It doesn’t really matter whether George W Bush is stubborn about making a timetable. Our enemy knows that one year or five years it doesn’t really matter because they can wait. Echoing The Rolling Stones, “Time is on their side.”

So, how can we win?

Well, I believe that in Iraq we have already won, as far as any stated goals announced. We went to Iraq to secure our country from the potential act of aggression with “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” We discovered that there weren’t any in Iraq, so we should be loading up and getting ready to go. The Iraqi government and the Iraqi people now need to stand up to the plate.

In Afghanistan we have given up our search for Osama bin Laden, the leader of the group that attacked us. We need to re-concentrate our efforts and bring him in before he dies of old age.

And, we need to strengthen our borders and increase security at home. But, unless we want to live in a police state we need to do the best we can to use our soft power and show the world how we can all live together in cultural diversity and political harmony.

Of course, this is only if we truly want to win this war.




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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit









After the 2006 congressional races I breathed a sigh of relief. Up until that point the Republican Party had driven the nation to the edge of an abyss. They were destroying the country bit by bit, and our only hope was to win at least one house of congress to stop the destruction. And, even with the Republicans claiming that the congress is doing nothing I am pleased that they have been able to stop the Republicans from their continued march to the apocalypse.

Well, that was 2006 and the success of the Democrats allowed us to take a breather, but the next wave of elections will be here in November. And, the Republicans are going to do their best to slur and slander any candidate that stands in their way of winning back political power.

It is quite obvious that this is already happening toward the Democrat nominated to run against John McCain for President of the United States. I am disgusted when I read or hear these people go out of their way to accuse Barack Obama of being a terrorist. He is accused of being Islamic when he was attending a Christian Church. These people are so full of hatred that they just make things up and put them out on the web as if it were fact (or imply that it might be supported by some thread of truth). I am continually amazed that Americans are so gullible that they believe these things. But, with the education system in our country as bad as it is how are they to comprehend the difference between the truth and the nonsense?

In the last few days since Barack has won the primary I have seen so much hatred directed toward him that I might believe that the Devil himself had secured the nomination. There were people saying that knocking fists with his wife was a terrorist symbol. There were people claiming that he was going to raise taxes, which tends to strike fear in the hearts of some people even more than the terrorist threat. So many of these things are lies, that writing them here seems to give them credit in some way.

Then Dennis Prager, the radio talk show host writes a conservative manifesto on how wonderful America was when he was a child.

The idea here, of course, is that America was wonderful before liberals changed America. Then this vitriolic radio host tells us how America was freer when we could speak our minds. What does he mean by this? He means that he liked to be able to make fun of people for being gay, having big boobs, being fat or being Jewish. He tells us that civil rights was a great step forward, so it wouldn’t be right to make fun of people for being black. But, he’s upset that in the current fascist state of America one can get in trouble for sexual harassment. You can hear him thinking as he writes, that he just wants to tell a good ethnic joke, but America has changed and he could get in trouble for that.

Oh, poor Dennis, now he’s not allowed to offend people like his father’s generation could.

Of course this brings me back to what I have always said about conservatives. If conservatism isn’t about keeping things the way they are now, then it is about bringing back the “Good Old Days” when things were perfectly wonderful. Of course, that time never really existed accept in the selective memories of conservatives that want to go there. Dennis tells us in his piece about a wonderful time when men could tell dirty jokes or ethnic jokes without the worry of offending anyone.

Well, maybe this was a wonderful time for the people making the jokes, but it wasn’t a wonderful time for the people subject to the ridicule. I remember people like this. We had a name for them. We called them bullies. Bullies thought the world of themselves and ridiculed those that they deemed inferior to themselves. And, bullies pretty much had an attitude that everyone was inferior to themselves.

Imagine if you will, a whole group of people with this attitude. These are people that daydream of a special time long ago when they could make fun of people and not be ridiculed for their mockery. And, if they still hang out today when no one else is around they can still mock the rest of mankind in their own special way. Well, this group of people still exists today, and they call themselves Republicans. They gather together and they make fun of those who are different than themselves. The top of their list, of course are the liberals that stand opposed to this bullying. And, what a better target than the leader of the liberals - the Democrat’s nominee for the office of the President of the United States of America. Well, the best of these bullies were actually paid in 2004 to spread ugly rumors about John Kerry, and many unsuspecting people actually believed this vitriol and voted against John Kerry because they were afraid.

Well, another election cycle is upon us and the bullies have come out of the closet and they are spreading those ugly rumors again. Many people will continue to believe everything they hear, regardless of the sources. But, I believe that there are many people who are out there that have learned their lesson. After they voted for George W Bush, our illiterate leader of this country proceeded to lead us into an abyss of hopelessness. Most Americans have come to the realization that the illusion of fear spread by these bullies and liars lead them astray. I have hope that Americans are bright and they realize that these bullies are spreading mockery and fear that has no basis in reality.

For example, they tell us that Barrack Obama is a Muslim. They tell us that all Muslims are terrorists and they imply that Barrack Obama is a terrorist. None of this is based in fact, but in the mentality of a person that wishes that he could feel free to mock those he dislikes this all makes sense. By adding even more deception by implying that a “fist bump” between Barrack and his wife Michelle is some type of terrorist “high-five” these bullies had another layer of lies.

But, why do these bullies feel the need to lie. If the majority of Americans really did want to go back to the days of mockery and profanity treasured by these bullies, then the majority of Americans could change the culture.

I heard a strange diatribe on the radio today. The special guest host for Rush Limbaugh told us that he was upset by the government’s power in creating a law in which restaurants and bars in California are not allowed to have smoking sections in them. He argued that the free market should have allowed the evolution of smoke free restaurants and bars. From my point of view he proved how the free market does not work in every case.

He told us that if people didn’t want to be bothered by smoke they should go to places that did not allow smoking. People that wanted smoking would go to places that offered smoking. Economics would let the best option win. But, there are many pieces of this puzzle that are missing. Can a person who gets lung cancer twenty years after working in these smoke filled places get their lives back? Can people make a choice and get a redo after they learn the results? Rush’s sub tells us that he asked the people working in a bar if they liked the new law. And, he was upset that they actually like the law.

Now, I am confused. The people working in the places are happy with the new law. The majority of customers don’t smoke, so they are happy with the new law. The new law put all of the businesses on an even playing field, so that no one business needed to take the risk of going non-smoking, so the business owners didn't loose any money or business. Perhaps some people who had once stayed home because of the irritation caused by smoke actually may have gone back to spend more time out on the town. The only people at a disadvantage are a minority of people who continue to be addicted to nicotine. Perhaps they could wear a patch and go out if that’s really what they want.

In the conservative tradition, this substitute Limbaugh, continued to mock the employees for liking the new law. “If they don’t like smoke,” he said, “they should have just gone out to find some other type of work.” Is this guy living in reality? Working in the restaurant business as a waiter or dishwasher is just about the lowest paid form of employment in the country. Don’t you think that if they could find a better job they would have taken it? This is obviously just more bullying from the voraciously vitriolic vipers on the right.














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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








It wasn’t too long ago that I heard people, mainly conservatives, complaining that the textbooks used in the schools were too biased. Many of these people were opposed to the idea that evolution should be considered as even a remote explanation for the why we have life on this planet in the current form. But, science wasn’t the only subject considered biased by these people. Sometimes references in American history textbooks to the plight of the poor Native Americans, former slaves or unfavorable immigrant groups would get slammed for being biased - or sometimes even “un-American.”

The truth is that history is written by the winners and winners do not normally identify with the plight of those they oppose. But, even more often history is re-written by the new winners every time we make social, political and economic progress. The plantation owners in the rural south wouldn’t even consider commenting on the contributions of their slaves to economy of the south. But, that cheap labor kept the cost of agriculture low for all of the American markets. But, as the former slaves and their families gradually acquired civil rights and the political power that comes with those rights their history began to reflect that new power.

In the United States we often proclaim freedom and liberty as virtues sought by us for all of us. But, when we think of “us” we don’t always see the entire community of the United States as equally deserving of those rights. No institution better demonstrates equality than the military. When you and four of your buddies are out there in harms way everyone understands that bullets do not discriminate. So, it wasn’t surprising that when the vets came home from World War II and traveled the country meeting up with their friends from the military that they were shocked by the discrimination observed around the country. Jack Kerouac describes this poignantly in “On the Road.” These new battles erupted at home and began to bring more social change to America through out the 1960s.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that history would be rewritten again to reflect the brilliance of the civil rights movement and the grand social change resulting from the 1960s. Of course there is only so much room in any textbook and when some points are highlighted then other points are neglected. Sometimes bias comes from these facts alone. Sometimes authors take the initiative to trumpet additional points as well. The result often results in more bias.

History is the telling of not just one story, but a collection of interconnected stories. When two general face each other in battle, they both have their own personal observation, skills and bias brought into the conflict. They each see the other as a dangerous nemesis. History will normally only tell the story of the victor, sprinkled in with the weaknesses of the loser. When the battle began they both had strengths and weaknesses, but history doesn’t record it all. But, when the kin of the loosing general are vindicated on that day of sweet revenge, history records a new story, retelling the misfortune of the old battle story with a new twist.

It shouldn’t be surprising to me that my kids have brought home “new” textbooks that have once again rewritten history.

My daughter is currently taking a High School American History class. Her textbook has been written by several members of the Hoover Institution. When we read her book we now learn the evils of Socialism that have been lurking around every corner of American society. We now know the evils of unions and laborers in general. It has been clarified for me the FDR practically destroyed the country with the New Deal. If only he had left Hoover’s economics to lead us the Great Depression would have only been a small recession. It is truly amazing what they are teaching our kids now days. The irony to this story is seen in an included graph of unemployment from 1925 to 1945 that disproves many of these arguments when you line up the New Deal programs and the results.

Philosophically it makes sense that the Reagan years would have some fall out like this. In the long run we will end up with students being educated with these exaggerated biases to counteract the exaggerated biases from earlier books. It also makes me sad to see this back and forth bickering that polarizes the country. Many students take what they hear in school as fact and don’t think about it. Chances are that there will be many people who believe that unions are bad and the New Deal practically destroyed the country as a simple result of using this textbook. They won’t be taught that there were arguments on both sides of these issues. They will be left with the current winners point of view. Ten years from now we will once again have new textbooks. The current students will be long graduated and left with the biased views that they were taught. The question becomes, what will those new textbooks teach our children? Will they continue to teach of the evils of unions and the New Deal? Or, will they teach us how FDR, our physically handicapped president was a hero that triumphed over adversity in so many different ways?





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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








Today Paul Krugman once again points out that the Republican party has only two solutions to problems - Tax cuts and deregulation or ignoring the problem hoping that it will go away.

Of course ignoring a problem and hoping that it will go away is not a solution. But if you can convince enough voters to ignore the problem along with you then at least you can win elections, control the government and eventually control the information going out to the public.

The Bush administration does this every day with the news from Iraq. How many pictures of coffins do we see coming out of the bellies of the planes coming back from Iraq? None! The reason for this is the simple party line - “its bad news, so ignore it until we have good news.”

The whole surge issue started with an increase in the numbers of deaths and injuries, both to Americans and Iraqi civilians. But, the administration did the best to ignore it, and at best admitted it saying that things would get better when the surge started to “work.”

Well, it’s a year later and the surge is supposed to be finished. The troops are supposed to be drawn down and the Iraqi government is supposed to step up and take over. Well, the reality is that “the enemy” went into hiatus and simply waited until the Americans finished their silly surge. And, now that it is ending those who are against America’s puppet government are slowly waking up and beginning where they left off before the surge began. If the US spent a little more time working with all the political forces in the country, instead of using force to make Iraq do what America believes is best maybe things would be different. But, the current administration doesn’t want you to see that. They continue to be in denial about what the solution must be. They don’t want to even admit to ant wrong doing when the whole situation could have been prevented in the first place.

But the administration is in denial about so many other things as well. Mainly it seems to be a fact that the Bush government is a faith based government. You are supposed to put faith in your government or else you are not being patriotic. Too many people bought into this in 2004 and re-elected George W Bush. Unfortunately we are stuck with this idiot for a few more months. But, if we work together to point out what the Republicans continue to deny then we may have enough people to vote to end this ridiculous ostrich policy.

Paul points out that the health care system is falling apart as we sit here and type. They believe that a market system will fix everything. But, there is a slight problem with markets. Markets react to what the average person is willing to pay for a service. So, I ask you one simple question, how much is your health worth to you? Are you willing to pay your entire family estate to make yourself live a few years longer - given there is a cure. So, given the fact that most people are willing to give up all of their money to live longer, then the price of health care will rise until all of our wealth is spent and health care providers possess all of the wealth. What other possible limiting factor is there? Why would people pay less than they have and decide to die sooner? The average cost of health care will always rise to mean wealth of the country. Health care providers will end up being the only people able to afford health care. If you disagree, then please tell me what will limit the cost of health care in a free market.

The only solution is to limit the market in some way. We can provide less health care, then people would not be able to purchase health care when they need it, thereby conserving wealth. We could allow everyone to become a health care provider and competition would tend to limit the price. Basically we would learn to take care of ourselves. Or, we could mandate maximum prices that health care providers would be able to charge for services. This would limit expenditure and reserve cash for other purposes.

The bottom line is that a free market health care system rations health care to those who can afford it, until they spend all of their money and whatever that they are allowed to borrow until they are forced out of the health care system surrendering that spot to the next guy in line. We could ration health care to the wealthy, or we could ration health care to the sickest, or we could ration health care to the most deserving. In the end health care is limited by the supply. If we maximize the supply and ration to the deserving we end up with the fairest system. Anything else is inherently unfair.






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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit









Just after Christmas Barack Obama won Iowa in the Democrat’s primary. Iowa was the culmination of months (almost years) of campaigning. Anyone living in Iowa with a bit of gumption could basically go up to any candidate and shake their hand and ask them difficult questions. This personal campaign style could not be reproduced on the national scale. But, it could be copied in New Hampshire.

Hillary Clinton started the election cycle with the blessing of the grand masters as the golden child of the Democrats. Being the golden child means that money flows in to your campaign from established donors relatively easily. Everyone else in the race needed to work hard to change the minds of many that they at least deserved a chance to be seen and heard. After all, this is the way that American elections take place.

After Barack won Iowa he was coming on strong in New Hampshire. He had “momentum.” Momentum is an elusive idea if you think about it. Do you personally think to yourself and say, “Hey, that guy just won last weeks election, I think that I’ll vote for him?” We like to think that we wouldn’t be persuaded in such an uninformed way. We like to think that we sit and listen to a candidate and think about what they say and consider whether what they say could effect us in a positive way. Of course, every politician says the things that we think will effect us in a positive way. They never, or almost never say things that will effect us in a negative way. As voters it is our responsibility to discover the ways in which one person’s positive message is our negative message. So, how do we explain momentum?

Well, Hillary managed to shed a tear just in time to slow Barack’s momentum in New Hampshire. For a moment the nation and particularly New Hampshire thought that Hillary was possibly human. The control of this collective movement of political opinion is the elixir that all politicians seek. It seemed for a short time that Hillary knew how to turn people toward her with the bat of an eye.

Fortunately for America the primary season is spread out over several months. And, what people find important one week might mean very little a few weeks later. The idea is to allow the selection process weed out the potential problems we might not like when a candidate is elected. This would be a fairly honest system if it weren’t for the politics.

Politics is much more complex than what we normally see in the election process. Politics is about relationships. And, the key to winning elections normally lies in powerful relationships. The first most obvious relationship is between the candidate and the public; normally it is a relationship that builds over time as people get to know him and he gets to know the people. However, candidates that have already established relationships with existing politicians might be able to speed up this process. A powerful politician might use his relationship the people that support him to endorse a candidate that is less well know. And, for many people that trust transfers easily. The people don’t need to learn about the candidate if a person they trust tells them to accept the candidate. This saves time all around, but it also cheats the candidates that don’t have these powerful relationships from being heard. The candidate that has a less established network of relationships is always going to be at a disadvantage no matter how good their ideas are.

Of course, these are the realities of politics in America. The problem, however, is that good ideas make a country stronger, not necessarily good networks. Candidates are elected on their ability to build good networks, and only very rarely on their good ideas. Sometimes a person with good ideas is able to break into a network by bringing those idea to key people in the network that actually care about good ideas. However, if the network is devoid of people like this it become virtually impossible to make political progress.

With Barack Obama, however, he seems to be able to bring his good ideas forward and present them in such a way that people in the network of the powerful Democrats can not ignore him. We are only in this tight primary race because Barack Obama is able to communicate in such a superior way. If he were an average politician like Hillary Clinton but outside the network he would have simply been out of the race by now.

If you have any doubt about the uphill battle that Barack has fought so far, look at the polls from before a campaign enters a state until election day for almost every state voting so far. Initial polls favored Hillary Clinton in almost every race until Barack Obama began to spread his message. The longer that the public was exposed to his message the more he climbed in the polls. Hillary was spreading her message at the same time, however voter continued to slip from her and join Barack. If everyone had voted without campaigning, then every race would have ended up like Florida, where no one campaigned; Hillary winning by a huge margin. We this same phenomena playing out once again in Pennsylvania. Barack was down by 20 points before the campaigning even started. Hillary had the race in hand, until she actually had to make her pitch - why should you vote for her? With even footing at the beginning Barack would have built a lead based on his vision alone. There would be no competition by this time. However, Barack had to fight an uphill battle changing the minds of people who had been biased in the beginning. And, surprisingly he is doing it again and again.

When I look at this evidence it is clear to me that there must be something about Barack that keeps working. People don’t change their minds easily. If he can change the minds of these people he will certainly be able to work his magic as he moves on to the general election. And, as a President of the United States he will continue to need that power of persuasion in order to build his own power network with the people in Washington. Then he can put those ideas in place and really bring about change. After all the power is in the networks even if the ideas are not.










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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit






One fundamental difference between social conservatives and social liberals pertains to what makes a person “bad.” Are people born bad or good? Can good people become bad people? Can bad people become good people? What does it take for people to be good or to be bad?

Jesus actually spoke to this repeatedly. He understood that the main obstacle for a sinner was forgiveness. The ritual rite of Baptism was a cleansing and renewal that John the Baptist brought to us. The fasting in the desert was a way for people in Jesus’ time to shed the habits of sinfulness and to renew themselves. But, when a former sinner wanted to reunite with the community the only obstacle tended to be the community itself. The community expected sin from its sinners, just like it expected goodness from its leaders.

All of this is counterintuitive if we actually think about this for a second. Are we always good? Are we always bad? Of course we are never always one or the other. We are all truly human, and humans falter and err. So, we should expect the same of other people throughout society in general.

In “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” Philip Zimbardo explains to us how he discovered that random people will become evil by the circumstances that they find themselves in. External influence clouds the perception of what we believe to be good or bad. And soon we find ourselves doing bad things without realizing that what we are doing is bad. This was a scientific experiment that resulted in a conclusion that the researchers weren’t prepared for. This same breakdown in social norms resulted in those photos from Abu Grab in Iraq.

What Philip Zimbardo points out is that the external environment can make the probability that people will turn bad more or less likely. In fact, he is not saying that people can not resist these effects. What he is saying is that there are environments that make the likelihood that bad deeds will happen more probable. And, one element in that environment is the existence of people who disregard the rules. If an environment exists that will have a high probability of one person breaking the rules, then it becomes more likely that the next person will break the rules, and soon many people are breaking the rules until finally all of the people are breaking the rules. If we know this in advance, then environments may be created that reduce the probability of “bad” behavior.

Now, one interesting dilemma however is that when some people are given the power to judge the “goodness” of another person’s behavior then that person has an increased risk of having “bad” behavior. Within the bastions of authority we find corruption. This is not surprising, but it creates a need to “police” our authorities. Secrecy also increases the risk that someone has a higher likelihood of breaking a rule. Secrecy offers a safe zone in which no one knows what is being done. Once again this isn’t surprising. The point that is surprising is that all of us have the potential for evil within ourselves.

To sin is human. To be selfless is also human. Humans have a wide range of behavior and every one of us is capable of all of these actions.

The conservative model of crime and punishment is based on the idea that we take the bad people and separate them from the rest of us. This separation of good from evil will purify the society and we will have a better society. This model would make sense if there truly were good people and bad people. There might be a few bad people that we would not discover, because they would be able to conceal their “badness” because that is what bad people do.

However, the Christian and Liberal model of crime is not based on this idea. Instead, any Christian can tell you that we are all sinners. We all break rules and we all sin. The problem is that once a person sins then they have a personal loathing for themselves about the sin they have committed or the rule that they have broken. (Of course this is if they feel that the rule or sin was actually worthwhile.) Some sinners or rule breakers feel justified in breaking the rule or sin because they feel that the rule or sin was unjust in itself. People who speed generally feel that they are justified in breaking the rule because they can personally speed without hurting anyone or causing any problem. Other people might see a speeder and feel justified because they should also be allowed to get to their destination earlier. When the speeding actually results in an accident, then the speeder will feel remorse and self loathing. A Christian or Liberal will explain that those first speeders should not break the law for the good of the community. If the community witnesses a rule breaker then the probability of rule breaking will increase. The final result will be another accident.

A liberal will tell you that laws should exist for the good of the community. Conservatives will tell you the same thing. But the idea behind the mechanism for these laws is completely different. Conservatives want to discourage the “bad” people and encourage the “good” people. Liberals and Christians want to prevent the community from evolving into a “bad” community.

I wrote this explanation in order to point out that the Catholic Church is bound to repeat the sins of the past, because the authority in the Catholic Church does not understand the problem. Today, the Pope announced that the pedophile problem in the Church will be fixed because the Church will no longer select pedophiles to become priests. On the face of this it sounds like a good idea. Screen the potential priests and determine whether they are pedophiles. When pedophiles are found, then don’t allow them to become priests. The problem is not with the selection between good and bad people to become priests. The problem is with the environment that allows pedophiles to develop after they have already become priests. Pre-selecting non-pedophile priests and demanding that they remain celibate will increase the probability that those priests will seek sexual gratification. Obviously not all priests will chose children for that gratification, but arresting their sexual maturation to the time that they become celibate will increase the probability that they will seek people of similar sexual maturity when they do seek sexual gratification. Of course not all priest will become pedophiles, but the probability will be increased. Secrecy, mystery and authority enable priests to act on impulses that the environment nurtures.

The only real solution to this problem is to recognize the true nature of being human. Being open about being a sexual human being will allow priests to mature in their understanding of what it truly means to be human. When other priests know what everyone is thinking about on this level it allows the entire community to mature. Taking away the secrecy and forgiving each other even if one falls builds strength in the community. Ensuring that children can not be allowed to become victims puts everyone on the same page. However, realizing that sexual and emotional gratification found only in meaningful human relationships is the only real way to quell the ominous potential for this evil and will most likely never happen. And without that particular reform we will continue to have a few priests continue to sin in this way for a long time to come.



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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








Last week I ventured on a business trip to the middle of the country. St. Louis is a major American city based on the fact that it offers major league sports teams. However, when you compare the city of St. Louis to many other American cities it seems to be a little more “laid back.” When I suggested this idea to a friend he asked, “By laid back do you mean - nothing is going on?” I actually believe that something is going on, it is just going on a bit slower than in other areas of the country.

Missouri is the “Show Me” state. Basically this self-assigned reputation suggests that people in Missouri are born skeptics. However, I don’t believe that Missourians are skeptics in all areas at all. Instead, as a casual observer it seems more likely that people from this state tend to be set in their ways until they are show to do things another way. Now, stereotypes are generally frowned upon by those who are politically correct, but when you walk into a new place and everyone is behaving in such a strange and universal way it is hard to not believe in stereotypes to some extent. In fact, the idea that people from certain places behaving in certain ways would be strongly supported by the cultural influence in an area effects the population. People who move from these areas take their culture with them as well as their genetic pool.

Missouri is also one of those states that will most likely play a significant role in the 2008 election. Missouri is also a state with a history of racial issues. For example, the Dred Scott case was argued in St. Louis. Therefore it tends to be important to understand how the people in this “compromise state” might feel toward the possibility of Barack Obama being elected to the highest office in the land.

The first Missourian I asked about Barack Obama laughed at me. Of course this fresh graduate from Mizzou was extremely drink and would laugh at just about anything she did have a serious disbelief in the possibility of a person of color being elected president. As I proceeded to ask her if she had heard any of his speeches, or knew what he stood for she drew a blank. She was aware that there was no possible way that any of her friends would vote for him. At that point I was happy to learn that she was not registered to vote.

Well, I didn’t feel very encouraged after listening to this (what do you call a person from Mizzou?) person tell me “the facts of life” in Missouri.

The next person that I questioned about the 2008 election wasn’t exactly from Missouri. And, since this was an informal survey that actually means nothing I will tell you what he said anyway. I began by suggesting that of course he must have voted for Barack in the primary election, and he laughed in my face again. (I guess this is bound to happen when one spends time in the bar.) When he collected himself he asked me “In the month after 9/11 back in 2001 could you have ever imagined that we would have a black Muslim running for President of the United States?”

Well, what other answer could I have for this obviously misinformed question than, “Of course, I expected that would be the next step in our political culture.”

When this man was caught off guard by my response he said, “Hey, you aren’t being honest with me!”

Then I was able to say, “Well, that’s because you weren’t being honest with me. Barack Obama is not a Muslim. In fact, the problem that he is currently having pertains to his membership in a Baptist church. And, last I knew the Baptist religion is a Christian denomination.”

Of course arguing with a drunk is never likely to be productive. But it does tend to bring to the surface one of the problems that our country still needs to solve. Clear lies and misinformation will continue to plague this election. Whispered innuendo will be a major force that will continue to work against what would be best for our country.

Of course the person I was arguing with was a working class person that would benefit economically from the election of Barrack Obama more than the election of either of the other two candidates. However, the economic interest of the upper class is being served by the prejudice of the lower class. This tends to be a convenient circumstance for the upper class, because they would never dare to bring it up and expose their advantage. And, when people have been raised in a culture of racism then that racism is an undercurrent that seems to be acceptable within that culture.

My daughter recently returned from a trip to Texas. Being raised in California and having friends from many different racial groups she found her experience shocking. She was in the process of visiting different schools in an effort to choose a university to attend after graduation. Most likely just because her parents graduated from Texas A&M she felt an obligation to tour this campus. The non-diversity of that school was shocking, and she announced that it was highly unlikely that she would be able to attend that school. Her host, somewhat surprised, said, “Why? You’re white and you’re not a lesbian, so you would fit in just fine.” My daughter couldn’t even grasp the comment. She must have told us this story twenty times just trying to understand where these people were coming from.

But, the rest of the country might be a bit more like the center of the country rather than the coasts. And, because of this we are in need of a major national discussion on racism. And, I offer these points as just another effort to push this conversation forward.




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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit








What should America’s foreign policy be?

I just finished “reading” “Charlie Wilson’s War.” I actually listened to the audio version of it on my way back and forth to work over the last week. I highly recommend it to anyone who wonders how our government works. The book details quite a few examples of why politicians do what they do as opposed to what they say in public.

The story of our involvement in Afghanistan and the historical context around it brings up a very interesting question. If America really hated communism or socialism, why were the Republicans so dead set on the Nicaragua War and the Democrats so dead set against it? And why was the converse true of the Afghanistan War?

People who haven’t seen the movie or read the book might be surprised to discover that Charlie Wilson was a Democrat from Texas. He was actually known as the “Liberal from Lufkin.” So, why did Charlie find the Afghan cause so important and the Contra effort such a lost cause?

The answer lies in the true nature of these two different wars and in the basic ideology of the Democrats and Republicans.

The Nicaragua War began when Somaza the dictator of Nicaragua, from a merger of wealthy coffee plantation family and other wealthy families was overthrown by a group of people who organized because of the abuse they suffered under this government. The overthrow could have been viewed as a liberation of the people from the oppression of the upper class. But, because the wealthy in America fear the common people they were eager to restore this wealthy family back to power. In order to do this they hired soldiers of fortune - the Contra to fight against the new Sandinista government.

The Afghan War began when the Soviet Union marched into Afghanistan and took over the government. The country was poor and not ruled by anyone possessing huge wealth. The Soviet Union mainly wanted territory and eventually access to a port on the Indian Ocean. But, in Afghanistan the Afghan people rose up en masse to fight the occupation of this land. These people didn’t need to be paid to fight, because they would gladly give their lives to fight the Soviet Union to the death.

These wars began roughly the same time in 1979, but the Republicans quickly backed the Nicaragua Contras while Charlie Wilson, the Democrat in Congress, sought to back the Afghanis. By looking at how those two wars started it is quite clear why one party backed one war while the other party backed the other. What does justice mean? Is justice protecting your ill-gotten gains or is it protecting your freedom? Obviously each political party here in the United States has its own interpretation. One war was to restore a wealthy family to power while the other war was to win freedom for a country that was overthrown by our direct cold war enemy - the Soviets. Which war was the more noble war? Which war was a war for freedom? Which war was for the people?

It is funny (or maybe sad) to think about how the Republicans have somehow inherited the caricature of the party that is willing to fight for freedom and liberty to defend our country, when they actually don’t act that way at all. A war for freedom and liberty isn’t really worth the fight in the minds of the Republican party. But, when real assets are involved, then the Republicans jump on the band wagon waving their pitchforks shouting “kill the beast.” In reality Democrats seem to act to protect our country in a more reasonable and rational way most of the time. When they are swayed to jump into the fight it seems to be when the plight of the people is in danger. Charlie Wilson went to bat for the Afghanis when no one else cared about them. He saw a noble people fighting to free themselves from oppression. This is the same fight that many working class Americans battle day to day because they have no choice; they need to feed their families. Hopefully, as these stories are retold and the truth bubbles to the surface we will see the true colors of the American political parties when it comes to defending our country.

When we put the Iraq War in the light of these two wars fought at roughly the same time we see how a Republican congress and a Republican President used their power to manipulate the facts to present their case for war. Their motives seem to be quite clear in this light. The Iraq War has nothing to do with winning freedom from the oppression of Saddam Hussein as many Republicans would have you believe. It is obviously for the control of Iraqi oil. Well, Ok I already knew that years ago, but it is always comforting to see additional evidence backing a theory. Although evidence mounts some people will never believe that whoever they support could ever do anything wrong.

Like a said above, this book is a must read. It goes into the nuance details of how this politician with a noble goal in mind could not realize when his war was beginning to go wrong. And, by wrong I mean that the CIA support against the Soviets turned into fuel for internal conflict in Afghanistan. The result put the Taliban in power and created terrorist camps. Charlie Wilson and the CIA remained blinded by the perception of the nobility of those they supported although the extremism that beat the Soviets was slowly being turned against the United States. They believed that if they were able to bring down one super power, they could surely bring down the other, because “God is the only superpower!”

When I start hearing words tied to actions like that I begin to worry. The mind of the person who says these things is convinced not only that God is all powerful. That part I am OK with. But they also imply a second part that says I am doing Gods will. The flaw is that the person acting believes that they know what God’s will is. This frightening thought process is not only a part of the Islamic religious ideology. It is a part of fundamentalist religious ideology. Not all Muslims are fundamentalists. Just like not all Christians are fundamentalists. But, all fundamentalists have this belief that they are doing God’s will and therefore nothing can stop them from doing it. And that’s why George W Bush’s claim that he is doing God’s will in the Middle East is so frightening. Eight more months!




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Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."


Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit