Rick Perry Displays Ignorance, U.S. Shrugs Collective Shoulders

While taking a break from attacking President Obama for the GOP-induced credit downgrade, Rick Perry stripped off the kid gloves and came out swinging against one of the neocons’ favorite foes — climate change.

Pictured: The Governor of Texas protects America from socialists with a grenade launcher.

The Governor of Texas would like you to believe that not only is global warming a process completely independent from human activity, he actually accuses climate scientists of ethical misconduct. After kinda-sorta threatening the Chairman of the Fed with physical violence, Perry’s latest bombastic tirade has the feel of an act that will soon become routine:

1.) Wear hair gel and cowboy boots as often as possible.
2.) Be angry, yet folksy.
3.) Yell at things that Republicans are supposed to dislike.
4.) Try to make everyone forget about the last Texan to occupy the White House.
4.) Become a caricature of the last Texan to occupy the White House.

Pictured: Rick Perry enjoys a qui...wait. Oh wait. That's actually Josh Brolin's exaggerated Bush character from Oliver Stone's "W." Well, close enough I guess.

Unfortunately, behind the laughable soap-boxing effort Perry put forth, he makes some very real, very serious remarks about the integrity of American scientists. I know that when Perry pictures “Americans” he is not thinking of those individuals who toil in laboratories around the country (they generally make for poor photo ops), and I know the word slander is over-used, but this is one situation where its use might be appropriate. Though Perry didn’t use any names, his slur is nonetheless both untrue and potentially damaging. Shame on him.

Pictured: After his prayer rally failed to end the withering drought in his home state, Governor Perry gleefully unloads a full cylinder toward heaven, just to show Jesus that he doesn't fuck around.

For those who may not have been following the climate change “debate” I can summarize it quickly: 97% of scientists accept and understand that man-made global warming is occurring.

This is roughly equivalent to the number of scientists who breathe air and eat food. Unless you are involved with the sciences, it would be difficult to explain how tedious it is to come to a consensus on anything, and how alarming it is that our elected officials pretend that science and statistics only matter for polling numbers. Apparently, not only can you be basically uneducated and run for President, such a display of intellectual…umm…”independence” is actually encouraged.

Pictured: After a strong showing at a rally in Iowa, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann prepares to unfurl her wings and return to her nest.

To put this as plainly as possible, modern climate-change “deniers” are the spiritual successors to those who claimed tobacco was not addictive or deadly in the 60’s and 70’s. With lots of money and effort, tobacco companies successfully suppressed legitimate scientific data in the name of (perceived) potential profit loss. There is no debate, and we have gone so far down the climate change road that we have already done permanent damage. That’s really all there is to it. Damage control is the best we can do now.

I can only hope that there are enough intelligent, reasonable people in the United States to prevent another smooth-talking, sweet-praying, shitkicking, wanna-be cowboy from occupying the White House.

Pictured: Potentially the worst re-run of all time. Maybe even worse than when you lose the remote and "According to Jim" is about to come on. *shudders*

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Some Reasonable Predictions for a “Post-bin Laden” World

Call me an “armchair politico” if you will, but I’d prefer you just comment instead.

1.) The Republican Party is finished in the short-term.

The entirety of the Republican strategy has been to attack Obama personally, and with very little basis. The right has no cohesive strategy beyond attacking Democrats, and since they’ll obviously have to cut that out, the hollowness of their existence will become very noticeable, even to Fox News junkies.

2.) Trump, Palin, Gingrich, and Bachmann are caput.

The Republican nominee will either be Mitt Romney (my guess) or Tim Pawlenty (or T’Paw, as no one calls him. So let’s start). However, neither of those two will win. Americans love a winner. I think people will migrate toward voting for Obama, even if they can’t articulate exactly why they are doing it. This is probably a good thing, at least for now.

T'Pau, Queen of Vulcan, and mother of Tim Pawlenty (her little baby T'Paw).

3.) The Democrats have their “liberal lion”

For better or worse, Dems now have “their Reagan.” How Obama handles the next few weeks–and the 2012 election–will affect our foreign and domestic policy for years to come. Anyone who reads what I write knows that I am not prone to hyperbolic flights of fancy; I am completely serious about this. Good luck, Mr. President.

Reagan, in a lighter moment, reflects on his fiscal policies: "I told them that it would 'trickle down,' and those fuckers believed it!

4.)There will be actual “death certificate-ers.”

Like every other momentous occasion, people will make up stories about bin Laden’s death, much like they did about September 11th and, on a smaller scale, President Obama’s birth certificate. In advance, I will say that they are wrong, they are stupid, and they won’t matter.

Pictured: Undeterred by physical evidence and the President's success, Michele Bachman prepares to take flight for her nightly hunt. If all goes according to plan, her nocturnal work will hopefully yield a belly full of neonatal spinal fluid before dawn breaks and her thick, outer carapace begins to roast in the sun's holy light.

5.) You may start to see redoubled efforts of a “push-back” against regressive policies on the state level (i.e. Scott Walker, John Kasich, etc.)

I’m not as sure about this, but we should not underestimate how much momentum bin Laden’s death may have. I, for one, pretty much assumed bin Laden was already dead or had permanently escaped to a rogue state (which he kind of did). People might be reinvigorated by our Pakistani operation which was successful against significant odds. We’ll see.

6.) Obama gets to make the budget.

Because Obama is a little too nice, we won’t see a budget that I (and more importantly, you know, actual economists) would want, but Paul Ryan is done. I imagine people’s tolerance for taking Medicare and Medicaid away from the old and sick, respectively, will be greatly diminished. To our esteemed Chairman Mr. Ryan, I say with all due respect, please sodomize yourself with an iron stick. Failing that, it would be acceptable if you find another way to go fuck yourself.

This blue-eyed Boy Wonder is serious as fuck. Just kidding. He's really, really awful at his job.

7.) The debt ceiling will be raised.

Even the most profoundly retarded politicians on the right side of the aisle will be unable to force this issue (which, in the end, is a good thing.) It’s not ideal to raise the debt ceiling, and much work needs to be done so we stop doing that, but not raising it would be catastrophic. I don’t think we have to worry about that now.

In closing, think about this. In 1981 Ronald Regan proposed a budget that slashed spending and gave tax cuts to the rich. Democrats said “No” and Regan’s popularity was fading fast. Then, in one of the craziest things to ever happen in real life, a guy named John Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan to win the heart of Jodi Foster. I’ll leave the “barking up the wrong tree” joke aside, and let you make them yourself.

After the assassination attempt, Reagan’s popularity skyrocketed, Dems caved to his idiotic fiscal policies, and “Reganomics” was born (maybe “spawned” would be a better term.) My point is that I believe you can expect a significant bump in Obama’s poll numbers (which, after spiking, will settle in the mid-60’s or so) along with the potential for a similar (but hopefully way smarter) type of over-arching fiscal policy. Expect health care, science, and education to get the funding they rightfully deserve and desperately need.

Pictured: President Bush explains, with gestures, the estimated size of the branch he shoved up the education system's collective ass.

To conclude on serious note, we should remember with honor the 6000 American servicemen and servicewomen who are unable to rejoice in justice having been served. Regardless of our views on strategy, policy, and all the other horrible trappings of war, it is critical that we solemnly recall the deaths of the soldiers who, tragically, cannot be with us today. It is always old men who make war, and young men who die in war, and we can never allow ourselves to forget that. We should also remember the thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have been killed. Such are the unspeakable byproducts of war-making.

Having said that, enjoy this occasion. Military successes like this are few and far between, as we know all too well. A professor–who was a community activist–once told me that, even though you will face a constant stream of problems, it is important to celebrate all your victories, no matter the size, and no matter the surrounding circumstances. Even if it meant just “bringing in a box of donuts.” Otherwise, the will to continue with such difficult work can easily be lost. Before we get back to the budget, Medicare, and all the other issues plaguing our domestic policy, let’s remember, for at least a moment, to be happy with this victory. Today, let’s not forget the donuts.

A Case for Iraq or: Never Forget Srebrenica

With our current Middle Eastern ventures extending into Libya, I thought it an appropriate time to voice my, ostensibly unpopular, opinion on our efforts in Iraq (and Afghanistan, to a lesser degree.) In short, how we went about it was a miserable affair, but the result was better than most have hoped. Let me explain.

From 1992-1995, Serbian forces destroyed roughly 300 Bosnian villages while slaughtering over 3000 Bosniak men, women, and children, and left 70,000 homeless, simply because they disagreed on the issue of who the correct god actually is. This conflict seems even more ridiculous in nature when you realize that is impossible, even for the native peoples, to visually distinguish between a Bosnian Muslim (Bosniaks) and a Bosnian Christian (Serbs). I’ll let the significance of the last couple of sentences sink in for a minute. To make my point clearer, a war over territory this was not.

The U.N tried, mainly in vain, to control the situation while keeping its paws out of the muck; a significant miscalculation on their part, but one our hamstrung international body of choice makes all too often. As the Serbs continued, mainly at will, to decimate the ranks of the Muslim Bosniaks, the U.N. tried, with increasing bravado and decreasing resolve, to keep the situation “under control,” a favored pastime among those who frequent the Turtle Bay complex. You see, the Serbs had been attacking a small town called Srebrenica for the better part of a year, cutting off food, water, and any chance of rescue. After a year of virtual imprisonment, in March of 1993, French General Philippe Morillon visited Srebrenica as part of “inspection” and “peace-keeping” efforts. He famously (infamously?) promised the Bosniaks that they would be saved, and he would personally see to it.

In April 1993, in what will surely be remembered as one of the most naive proclamations in the history of international law, the UN declared the town of Srebrenica a “safe area.” The motives for this are unclear, but it is assumed this act was designed to “raise the pressure” on the Serbs and force them to leave Srebrenica. Since the forcefulness of such a remark in light of the atrocities already being committed was laughable at best the Serbs, obviously undeterred, raised a collective middle finger at the U.N.’s piddling “Resolution 819” and went right on with their attacks.

Unfortunately, Bosniaks–upon hearing word of this “safe zone” that the Might U.N. had Promised– had been flooding into Srebrenica since 1993, diminishing what little supplies available to virtually nothing. Starving, scared, and alone, 25,000 people crammed into a space meant for several hundred. On July 13, the real carnage began.

Under the direct command and observation of General Mlatko Radic 7000 Bosniaks were systematically tortured and murdered at least 7000 Muslim Bosnians, with countless additional crimes taking the form of the rape of countless females. Remember, this was all in the “safe are.” Outside the zone, many more were killed, and I certainly don’t mean to downplay those deaths. The Srebrenica massacre remains the largest mass murder since WWII, purely an ethnic cleansing in the strictest sense, and the insidious mastermind, Mlatko Radic, remains at large.

Bill Clinton took a lot of flak (and still does to some extent) for intervening in Bosnia. In the same way, George Bush takes flak for Iraq. Let me be clear on this: Bush, Cheney’s, Rumsfeld, and all the rest of that gang should be ashamed for lying to the American people and falsifying evidence in order to whip up a public frenzy of support. In fact, I would argue that their perjury might constitute, in some form, a violation of international law (and I am certainly not the only one.) Having said that, I support deposing Sadaam Hussein, a man who, much like Radic, supported the complete annihilation of a specific ethnicity (in Hussein’s case the Kurds) and who was proven to have used biological weapons on the Kurds, as well as his own citizens. In addition, Hussein claimed with arrogant regularity his intent to wipe a UN member state–Kurdistan–off of the map.

We can’t use the powerful and important phrase “Never again” regarding the Holocaust and stand idly by as defenseless innocents are massacred. No, we cannot be the world’s policemen. But there is something to be said for combating militant Islam abroad. Take for example the case of the Barbary Pirates. From 1750-1850, it is estimated that 1.5 million American servicemen were kidnapped near the Barbary Coast and sold into slavery by the Muslim Ottomans. Perplexed at these seemingly random and obviously horrific ambushes, Thomas Jefferson traveled to Tripoli to determine the reason for the continual and kidnapping of American soldiers. Jefferson asked why, since Americans had no animosity toward the Ottomans and, in fact, had little contact at all, American merchants and soldiers continued to be captured and sold into slavery. The answer will, unfortunately, probably not surprise you. With no hint of repentance, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman told Thomas Jefferson in their 1785 meeting:

“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.”

Upon hearing this, Jefferson decided something drastic needed to be done and so, in 1789, the Department of the Navy was created.

It is not “polite” to point out today that the reasons for the September 11th attacks were not political. They happened because the jihadists are commanded to, per their “holy book,” wage war against those who do not call Allah their god, and Muhammed his “prophet.” Even before we could travel easily to Muslim countries, we were infidels, and we will always be infidels, regardless of apologist pewlings and ignorant cries for “tolerance.” They (and I must unequivocally admit this does not mean “most Muslims”) don’t “hate us for our freedom.” They hate us because they literally believe that, if killed in battle against the infidel, they will be whisked away to Paradise. There is no hyperbole or sarcasm in what I am saying. If it sounds ridiculous and shameful, that’s because the concept is offensive to every rational mind.

We cannot solve every world crisis with our armies. But when it comes to preventing genocide–or in the case of the Ottomans, kidnapping, torture, and slavery–we must remember we are all human, and that alone should bind us together in disgust and swift vengeance toward those who would claim Divine and Ultimate Authority®. A murder committed in the name of a god, or the Right Religion, is the most despicable type. We would do well to remember this when innocents, who do not have the privilege of structured protest and legislation such as we are afforded, suffer at the hands of theocrats in the name of their god. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are not ideal situations–and our lack of aid to Darfur, and the Ivory Coast, among others, is a depressing matter–but I shudder to think of the consequences of non-intervention. One only has to recall the ultimate horror of Srebrenica for an example.

How To Survive a Government Shutdown

I started making this on Friday morning, went to sleep, then woke back up in the middle of the night to finish. Let me know what you think.

Military Spending

I have two more charts (so far) that I will be bringing with me to D.C. This first one shows the relative amounts that 25 different countries spend on military operations. If military spending was the NFL, the United States would be Jerry Jones.

D.O. Day on the Hill

I will be travelling to D.C. to meet with my home district (OH-13) Representative Betty Sutton, and possibly the two Senators from Ohio as well (Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman). This is an annual program where D.O. students across the country meet with legislators to discuss issues pertinent to medicine. We were instructed to be well-prepared, so I made a few very simple, easily readable visual aids. I think they get the message across pretty well. Here’s the first one:

John Kasich: Robber Baron

Break out your monocles and top hats, because it’s Robber Baron Time! ThinkProgress has an excellent explanation of John Kasich’s plan to sell public property and institutions (liquor stores, the turnpike, and prisons) to private investors. This article specifically focuses on the liquor stores.

Click here to see the ThinkProgress piece

If you don’t want to click or read all of that here’s my Reader’s Digest version:

1.) Gov. John Kasich of Ohio recently created a “private development company,” known as JobsOhio, and has made himself Chairman.

2.) Kasich plans to sell Ohio’s state-run liquor stores, which pull down roughly $228 million per year, to his new company, JobsOhio, via a 30-year lease.

3.) The plan is to sell the liquor stores, as a collective, for $1.5 billion. Now, you might say, $228 million multiplied by 30, is actually get $6.8 billion!

You are correct. Once again, under the guise of a “budget emergency,” Kasich will be short-selling our communal interests for pennies on the dollar.
Oh yeah, and JobsOhio has no cash yet. Since it’s new, and completely insolvent, Kasich will be funding his newest purchase with bonds from Wall Street investors.

Let’s recap: The Governor of Ohio is selling our most profitable revenue stream (the liquor stores) to a company he owns, at a bargain-basement price, with no actual money. remember, this is from a guy who’s always ready to highlight the inefficiencies and lack of profitability in government programs. So when he finally found a program worth something to the state of Ohio, he loots and pillages it for himself, to the potential tune of hundreds of millions.

If ~225,00 signatures are gathered, Senate Bill 5 will become a ballot initiative directly voted on by Ohioans, as opposed to being squeaked through the Ohio Senate (only a 17-16 victory). That means that if 1/8 people who didn’t vote for Kasich sign the petition, it will become a ballot initiative easily. When I find a way to sign petition like that (hopefully backed by someone with some clout) I will post a link.

The Damnable Consequences of “Citizens United”

It’s difficult to believe, but the 2012 election cycle is already in full swing. So once again, for the next eighteen months, we will be inundated with stories of $5000-per-plate fundraising dinners, attack ads featuring our “favorite” politicians, and an overwhelming air of American excess. In the land of plenty, there’s plenty of campaign money to be scrounged, if only you know where to look.
President Obama has an early start. He has already announced his intention to raise one billion dollars for his re-election campaign. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

$1,000,000,000. That is one million dollars, collected one thousand times. The literal meaning of “ridiculous”—deserving of ridicule—certainly applies to this gilded simulacrum of the democratic process.

With egregious corporate bailouts and an astronomical national debt, it is easy to overlook just how much a billion dollars really is. In the interest of providing a frame of reference, it should be noted that the first person even have a net worth of $1 billion—depending on who you ask—was most likely John D. Rockefeller who, by the time he was done bleeding money from the ground in 1937, was worth an estimated $1.4 billion. In other words, for almost 37,000 years of human history, no one even had a billion dollars, but 74 years after the existence of the first billionaire, a single person is planning on spending a billion dollars to purchase the office of President of the United States. As another example, President Obama’s campaign will cost more than GDP of 25 different U.N.-recognized countries and territories. This is certainly not Obama’s fault, nor is it the fault of any opportunistic candidate. In fact, in our cash-centric political process, this type of fundraising might be considered a candidate’s due diligence. The problem is that becoming an elected official has become such a wealthy venture that our votes have decreased in value to the point of triviality. There are numerous reasons for this “effective disenfranchisement,” but I will focus on the damage done by enormous campaign contributions.

“Zero-Sum” Politics
The ability of individuals to acquire varying amounts of wealth due to unique ideas, hard work, and personal merit is one of our greatest birthrights as Americans. Those who are wealthy, even the super-rich, should not be derided solely on the basis of their economic status, just as poverty-stricken Americans should not be considered with an air of disdain simply because they are poor. However, citizens can be justifiably incensed when colossal sums of money overwhelm the democratic process and effectively disenfranchise the average voter. Massive sums of cash turn politics into a “zero-sum game,” a mathematical concept that essentially means that by increasing the “winnings” of Player A, the “losses” of Player B must be exactly reciprocal. To illustrate this concept, imagine two people holding wicker baskets, with five apples in each basket. If Player A takes two apples from Player B’s basket, Player A now has seven apples, and Player B now has three. There are still ten apples in play, but the gains of Player A are directly opposite the losses of Player B. A simple numeric representation—(+2/-2)—now explains why this type of game is referred to as “zero-sum”. If you add the gains of Player A to the losses of Player B—positive two plus negative two—you end up with zero; thus, a zero-sum game.

In a non-zero-sum game, we could imagine a “community basket” placed in the middle of our two basket-wielding players, filled with five additional apples. Player A could take two apples from the community basket and now have the same total number of apples—seven—that he had in our first game. Player B, on the other hand, while he may not gain any apples during this new game, does not have to lose any apples in order for Player A to gain apples. This differs from our first game, because of the existence of said “community basket.” Using a numerical representation similar to our first one, we would get (+2/0). In a simple equation, 2+0=2; thus, our community basket allows the creation of a non-zero-sum game. So why is this important?

Introducing huge amounts of money turns the electoral process into a zero-sum game; by increasing their influence via money, wealthy Americans now have the ability to vote, as well as influential money. Unfortunately, the influential money makes the votes in our “basket” much less valuable. Thus, our “wealthy player” has gained political influence at the expense of “our basket” having been rendered virtually worthless. Zero-sum games are not intrinsically negative in economic terms, but certainly not a just way to run a democracy. Money devalues individual votes and cheapens the process as a whole. While it is true that campaign spending and the act of voting are two separate mechanisms, and no amount of money can compel you to vote a certain way, they are nevertheless inextricably linked, and the former boasts far greater influence than the latter.

A Grievous Blow to Democracy

In January 2010, the Supreme Court heard the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 split decision the Supreme Court ruled that it would be unconstitutional—per the First Amendment—to restrict the amount of money that unions and corporations can spend on political campaigns, effectively reversing the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act. In a ninety-page dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens wrote that the Court’s decision “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”

In usual arch-conservative form, Justice Scalia opined that Justice Stevens was “in splendid isolation from the text of the First Amendment. [Stevens’ opinion] never shows why ‘the freedom of speech’ that was the right of Englishmen did not include the freedom to speak in association with other individuals, including association in the corporate form.” In addition, Majority Whip and constant terrapine annoyance Mitch McConnell had previously bloviated that “Our democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all,” in regard to the original McCain-Feingold ruling; a vapid and fatuous proclamation clearly intended for use as a cable news sound bite. What seems to have been forgotten by our esteemed Justices is that while individuals may contribute large sums of money to a political campaign, there are still limits to spending per election as well as spending per year. If restricting the amount of money a corporation can spend is allegedly a violation of the First Amendment, how is limiting the contributions of an individual citizen legally justified?

A Return to Reason

Unfortunately, these are consequences a democracy faces when appeals and judicial rulings—otherwise known as “common law”—abandon reasoned logic in favor of fierce, pseudo-patriotic loyalty to the so-called “literal” interpretation of the Constitution, which is contrary to the original intent of the document’s framers. I agree completely that anytime speech is restricted, we must do so only in the face of overwhelming necessity, and with ultimate caution. In most cases, legitimate restrictions on speech are created to avoid public chaos or physical harm, as is the case for “clear and present danger” restrictions and the restrictions placed on hate speech. In that vein, the virtual disenfranchisement of the majority of citizens should undoubtedly be considered as dangerous as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Additionally, no reasonable, impartial citizen would argue that the words that you are currently reading are literally or legally identical to the contents of my wallet. We can use a syllogism—essentially the “transitive property” of algebra created by Aristotle—to show very simply why such an argument is logically fallacious:

1.) Speech is always composed of words, thoughts, or ideas.
2.) Money is never composed of words, thoughts, or ideas.
3.) Therefore, speech is never money, and money is never speech.

Now, I understand that in terms of commerce, “voting with dollars” is a legitimate, useful, and time-honored tradition. But when dealing with the law, we must always strive to ensure that our societal biases do not interfere with our ability to objectively evaluate the logic behind a given law. The governance of a people must adhere as strictly as possible to the tenets of logic in order to establish a level playing field for the entire citizenry. Equating speech and money in lay situations is perfectly acceptable because the consequences of such a relationship have little or no effect on the population as a whole, since an individual is never compelled to buy a certain company’s product. On the other hand, legally equating speech and money—given our current electoral paradigm—inherently awards a disproportionate amount of influence to those with vast wealth since we are collectively compelled, by law, to follow the edicts of our elected officials and thus, by extension, those who paid for the successful election. The allowance of unlimited campaign contributions legally bestows unequal political influence on certain individuals or groups based solely on the size of their bank account; a hallmark of plutocracy, and the bane of democracy. While the Koch brothers are doing their best impression of the Renaissance-era Medici family in Ohio and Wisconsin, the citizens of those states are literally powerless to halt the damaging and potentially irreversible actions of their elected governors, two of the Koch brothers’ most recent investments.

Simple Solutions

Now that I’ve aired my complaints, I suppose it would only be fair if I offered a potential solution. Since I’ve mentioned them quite a few times thus far, let us begin from a place of logic and reason. Occam’s razor is a concept which explains that given multiple solutions to a problem, and all outcomes being equal, the best solution is the most accurate and most succinct solution. With respect to Occam’s Razor, it would seem that setting a hard cap on dollars spent by a citizen per election (say, $100) and setting a hard cap on donations per year (something like $2000) would level the playing field enormously for the electorate as a whole while reducing the complexity of current campaign financing laws. With fewer dollars in the “political pool,” the value of each individual donation rises dramatically, as does the value of each vote. In addition, any group of people should be completely barred from contributing to campaigns as a group. In other words, if the Local Pipefitters 243 or the shareholders of Company X decide that, in order to make a statement, they will pool their funds and will each send their allotted $100 to Barack Obama or *shudder* Sarah Palin, that would be a perfectly acceptable practice as no “extra votes” are being added to the election. However, both the Pipefitters and Company X shareholders would be disallowed from contributing money as a group that did not come directly from their legally restricted, individual $100 limit.

Not a single citizen could claim that their right to free speech was being infringed upon; they have their vote, and they have their $100 check. If you want to do more in service to your preferred candidate or cause, hold a rally, send out flyers, or make phone calls, much like wealthy donors and politicians encourage less affluent or younger voters to do. Imagine how much more excited a high school senior would be about his government if he knew his $20 contribution was actually meaningful! If he can manage to donate twenty bucks five times, he has just “voiced” the strongest possible monetary support allowed by law! Is there anyone who honestly believes such engagement could, in any way, be construed as negative? Apparently Anne Coulter could, as she self-avowedly favors disenfranchising college students. I suppose that such a deplorable stance should be expected from this type of woman, whose pitiable existence is predicated upon receiving as much negative attention as humanly possible at the intellectual expense of anyone who has had the misfortune of hearing the hateful screeches and squawks that she routinely discharges. Aside from Coulter’s self-aggrandizing and pretentious opinion, the benefits of increased civic engagement, especially among American youth, are quite obvious.

And let’s not forget that under this new, donation-capped system, corporations could still potentially take official positions on candidates and issues. If Company X has ten board members that would like to donate to a certain candidate, they could pool their funds and donate a total of $1000 to said candidate. This is an excellent example of “group free speech”—which Justice Scalia supposedly supports—that does no harm to the average citizen. Such caps and restrictions would turn politics back into a non-zero-sum game, since corporate contributions—which would simply be a collection of individual contributions—would not devalue your vote or my vote, since our votes and $100 checks are only competing with the votes and $100 checks of other citizens. This differs from our current model which allows corporations—and unions, to be fair—to artificially introduce extra influence into politics that is superfluous to the actual process of democratically electing our leaders. Someone is going to be President no matter how much money gets spent, so why not attempt to make the process more accessible and engaging to the average citizen? We did away with property requirements and poll taxes so that a greater number of Americans could become involved politically. Donation caps are a natural extension of these policies. Unfortunately, politicians–and their wealthy patrons–have a personal financial stake in the perpetuation of our current system of election. We must demand reform despite such resistance in order to return some semblance of integrity to a process that has been perverted into a depressing charade.

If Not Now, When?

In 2008, only 57% of voting-age Americans participated in the presidential election. Compare this to Lincoln’s election in 1860 in which over 81% of voting-age Americans cast a ballot. Surely our population hasn’t been replaced by apathetic Pod People, and to simply blame low turnout on voter laziness is disingenuous, or at least unverifiable. Though I have voted in every election since I turned eighteen, I have always, sadly, considered it to be a futile and hollow gesture. With true campaign finance reform similar to what I have suggested here, gone would be lavish fundraisers with inevitably exclusive price tags. Suddenly, every constituent would be worth $100 at most, and we might witness the emergence of fund-raising rallies with thousands of attendees as the main source of campaign funding, rather than the current paradigm of exclusive, high-yield gatherings held behind closed doors. Hopefully, we will reflect back upon this practice of buying elections with a disdain similar to that which we reserve for the long-term disenfranchisement of African-Americans and women; as immoral, unjust, and damaging policies that were considered customary for a shamefully long portion of our history. Maybe President Obama’s cartoonishly-bloated campaign will one day be retrospectively appraised as the nadir of money-driven politics, and the genesis of true reform. As Thomas Paine so eloquently observed in his seminal pamphlet Common Sense, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” In the interest of creating a just system of democratic election true to the ideals of the brilliant Greek philosophers from whom the concept at least partially originated, let us hope that in this case, reason will conquer time.

Great Response to My “D.I.C.K.” Award Post from Mike Piecuch

After returning from my Cardio exam (which was mega-gaybones) I saw an excellent response to my earlier post, so I wanted to repost it, along with my response, because Mike brought up some excellent points.

Mike’s Response:

I understand how this is a controversial issue, however, I do think it is time to start running this country/state like a business. Sometimes the fat needs to be cut. While this bill may lean towards the extreme, a more moderate bill would not be useful as it would most likely not have the teeth to actually save any money.

I work for a large company that does contribute to my healthcare and I also pay a portion myself. I appreciate this and realize I am blessed. But I didn’t fall into this job ass backwards without putting in a hard work day after day including during college. I believe state workers should have to pay health benefits as well. We both work hard and we both work for the public good (I work in food safety). Obviously the union systems were useful at one time but it doesn’t take a genius to see how well they worked for the steel and auto industries. Ohio can’t fix itself with a bailout and it needs a complete “reboot”. In the meantime there will be workers that get screwed and there will be people who may get what they deserve. Years from now, with proper business tactics such as hiring those that work hard and firing those not fit for their positions, the system will be stronger and public works will benefit.

I am a reasonable person and would like yours or anybody else’s opinion too. Also please excuse any spelling errors…my fingers are a little too fat for my phone’s keyboard.

Jim Responds to Mike:

No worries about grammar. I agree that there should be discussions on what public employees should be entitled to. After all, they are employed by us, the taxpayers. However, the unions (in OH and WI) both agreed to all budgetary concessions that both Govs. made. So the issue became solely about worker’s rights at the bargaining table. Again, a fine discussion, but not one that affects budgets. Even the state budget offices explained that eliminating CB wouldn’t have any effect on the budget.

In addition, in Ohio’s bill, John Kasich is now legally allowed to sell any and all public facilities (water, energy, and especially the turnpike) whenever he wants, for however much he wants, and without being legally compelled to solicit bids. No-bid contracts aren’t necessarily bad, but when they involve the government selling public property to a private entity (i.e. Halliburton for the last 25 years) you can guess that those actions are simply an unethical power/cash grab.  This is clearly unrelated to our budgetary issues, and, in my opinion, completely unethical and probably illegal.

In Florida’s bill, Gov. Scott has eliminated all state-run free clinics, and is now forcing low-income citizens to use the clinics he owns, operates, and profits from, including for drug tests which he has now (illegally) mandated. This also seems like an unethical cash grab.

Public employees are extremely valuable to society, but  I agree that nonsense like “years employed”-based tenure does immense harm to public schools and, more importantly, students themselves.  That’s why they need CB;  so that there is a legitimate avenue to discuss issues like this, and so that the employees have some leverage.  Remember, in the employee-employer relationship, the employer holds an overwhelming power advantage, and we should always seek to balance this, both in the public and private sectors.  Anyway, thanks for your excellent response, and never feel like your opinion can’t be voiced here.  If this blog gets more traffic, I will prominently post the rules regarding courtesy in these discussions, which I value very highly. In fact, I’m going repost your response to my homepage.

Why I Could Never Vote for Ron Paul (even though I really, really want to)

This video is from the beginning of the month, but since the first anniversary of President Obama’s health care reforms has recently passed, I find the video to be very relevant .  The interview you see takes place between a member of the online news team “The Young Turks” and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.  For the most part, I think Ron Paul is a great politician.  He’s a big proponent of self-determinism and civil autonomy, two human rights I regard more highly than all others.  His policies on the insane and unjustifiable “War on Drugs,” his criticism of the criminal bailouts of mega-banks and huge companies, and his continued attacks on America’s imperialistic foreign policy have induced me to follow Rep. Paul closely over the past decade.

Unfortunately, as the Grateful Dead once opined, “Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey.”

Ron Paul is a medical doctor, yet does not “believe” in evolution.  Now, you might say, “Jim, let the man have his beliefs!  He can still be a great politician!”  Maybe.  But unlikely.  If a person is able to reject sound science, objective evidence, and logical reasoning in one facet of his platform (or life in general) why would I be expected to assume that this eschewing of logic won’t rear its ugly head at a more inopportune, or even dangerous, time.

Whoops.  Too late for that.

The callous way in which Paul dismisses the (admittedly imaginary) underprivileged young Texan exemplifies the flaws of libertarianism when taken to an extreme.  John Nash, a Nobel laureate (and Russel Crowe vehicle) with his models of game theory, showed that, in general, the benefit of the group leads to the benefit of the individual.  Obviously, as a mathematical and economic model, it has limitations.  For example, much of his theory assumes that all participants in the “game” are aware of all outcomes and always stay within the “rules.”  But even without this objective evidence, it can safely be said that no socio-economic model ever devised shows that lack of education, lack of health care, and crippling income inequality are positive indicators of civil health.  Besides the obvious logical fallacy that a poor, uneducated boy discovering how to “work his way up” to eventually become educated poses, Paul’s views on what constitute “rights” show that, in many ways, he is just as regressive as many of his Republican counterparts.  His personal admiration of the free market clearly interferes with his ability to reasonably assess the landscape of public entitlements.  It’s not just his fault though.  There will always be individuals who have a disdain for government subsidies.

Take, for example, the case of electricity as a right.  In Glenn Fleischmann’s essay “The Killer App of 1900” he outlines the history and politicking involved with the electrification of America:

“In the early days of electrification, electricity was a luxury, providing lights to a few people who chose electric over gas. The idea that electricity was a necessity (let alone a right) was widely held to be absurd. But because of the many applications for electric power, electrification quickly grew to be central in most Americans’ lives, and many electrification projects were ultimately taken on by governments, from the local to the national (FDR’s Rural Electrification Act).

Sound familiar?  It’s because any person with money is generally unwilling to part with it–in this case, in the form of increased taxation for the Rural Electrification Act.  Unfortunately, the rest of society requires taxes from the wealthy (at least some).  Oliver Wendell Holmes said that “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”  Now, just because a group of people cannot afford something but desire it, that does not mean they have a right to it.  However, as a society, as we grow in knowledge and experience, our perception and understanding of the world necessarily begins to change.  FDR realized that everyone was going to need electricity to even have a shot at being productive/competitive members of society.  He also believed that with old age should come respect and security, not disdain and poverty, which is why he created Social Security.  A constant dialogue about what constitutes our rights is necessary and beneficial, and I certainly don’t claim any absolute authority on the subject.  But as a medical student, I can tell you objectively that preventative care and subsidized health insurance are absolutely and inarguably cheaper than our current system.  People who don’t have money and use emergency rooms as primary care physicians are a drain on doctors, hospitals, and the economy in general.  The United States spends twice as much on health care as Switzerland, the second-biggest world spender, yet ranks a lowly 39th on the World Health Organization’s health care quality list.  This is simply unacceptable.  I won’t even address the issue about the right to an education, as any man who believes that an education is not a right is either uneducated himself, or egregiously selfish.

Also, consider the concept of the free market itself.  Any individual with wealth will attempt to accumulate more and, in a capitalistic society, a wealthy individual has an easier time of continuing to increase his wealth–the magic of compound interest.  If a capitalist truly believed in the “completely free market,” upon his death, he would donate all of his wealth, or invest all of it in infrastructure, leaving none for his progeny.  Generational consolidation of wealth is anathema to true “free market” principles.  In other words, in a true free market, the son of a wealthy man should not receive any of his father’s wealth, as this gives him an unfair competitive advantage that has no basis whatsoever on the son’s own merit.  Since this is not the case, and obviously absurd, we must always remember that the “free market” should never prosper at the expense of society as a whole.  Going back to the Greeks, this is our duty as Democratic citizens to ensure.

In closing, I find Ron Paul’s positions on health care and education to be appalling and indefensible.  His rejection of evolution as a scientific theory may not play a role in this specific instance, but it sure doesn’t help.  If it were completely up to those with money, those with little or no money would have few rights, as they did for most of history, and still do in the majority of the world.  Just like electricity, I firmly believe that health care, in some form, will eventually be an American birthright (and probably broadband access as well, but that’s another story).  The end game of a good government is the improvement of society as a whole, including society’s weakest links.  Yes, this includes a certain number of “handouts.”  But rather than handouts, maybe pro-business politicians should look at Social Security, health care, and public education as worthy investments in a brighter, more tolerant future (or at least an investment in deterring the proletariat from beheading you in the public square).   I can’t imagine how anyone would think a happy, electrically lit, healthy society would be a poor investment, so maybe I’ll ask John Kasich.  He always has plenty of stupid, dickish things to say.

EDIT (3/30/11 @ 4:24 PM): grammar