Friday, May 25, 2012

The Manifesto (version 2)

I'm not sure I've heard an intelligent and unbiased analysis of what conservative OR liberal values are. I know what my values are, and they appear to match most of the people I live and work with. 

I believe we should be allowed the opportunity to succeed (or fail) on our own merits. 

I believe bullies should be punished for bullying whether they are individuals or organizations or corporations or governments. 

I believe religion is not the business of the state and the state is not the business of religion. 

I believe the right to free speech is the cornerstone of democracy and that media reporting news is obligated to report the truth. Opinion on the other hand is universally individual. 

I believe science is the pursuit of the knowledge of how God did it. If you don't believe in God, then ignore the last clause of my statement and move on. 

I believe in your right to believe in what you want to as long as you don't cause harm to me and mine, or others for that matter. 

I believe if you carry a gun you must be ready to kill someone. This isn't a bad thing but don't tell me you aren't ready to kill, because then you're a liar or a fool. 

I believe in truth and facts. Lies don't solve problems. If you can't prove it with facts then its an opinion. Truth at least lets you see where you are. 

I believe the role of government is to provide a shield, formed by the collective will, against the bullies of the world. Since the major effect of bullying (outside of highschool) is economic this means government has a place in protecting the individual from economic bullying. 

I believe that the government is a social contract that exist at the will of the governed. It doesn't exist for any other purpose and is subject to change at the will of the people. All parts of the government are subordinate to the collective will of the people.  


I believe we make our own reality. What we believe to be is. If we collectively do not believe we control this country, it's government and its economic direction then we won't. But if we choose to we will. Look for the truth. Believe facts. Question opinions that haven't got a basis in truth. This country is an idealistic experiment. The only way to make it work is to have ideals. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Health Care or "I CAN'T PAY THAT!!!!"

It seems that health care is the one thing we can't live with and can't live without.

Everyone wants to go to the doctor when they're sick. They want Mama on life support if there's still a chance she'll change her will and leave all the money to the kids instead of the cats. Except there isn't any money left.

Guess what?

We can't afford to be healthy and we can't afford to be sick.

Being really ill today and just requiring transport to an emergency room can cost a thousand dollars. Plus the emergency room bill, plus the doctor's bill, plus the incidentals. Paying out of pocket means emptying the bank account or taking out a loan.

So the conventional response is 'Everyone needs health insurance' which is a possible solution, but if everyone's bills are getting paid than someone has to pay for them. Insurance spreads the cost among a small group of insured. The insurance 'industry' (they're an industry just the casinos are...) selects its customers so that the ones with the highest requirement for payouts aren't covered, therefore making the business profitable. Or they limit to the broader audience just what they will pay.... again leaving the people who need help paying the bill out of pocket.

So we look to the government for a solution, but the government solutions are littered with backroom deals and compromised ideas that are so broken they can no longer be functional. And when we need the help, we're still left holding the bag.

The answer, at least from my simple perspective, is to decide en masse, that is as the body politic, what we want from our health care system.

So here are some thoughts. Let's do away with health insurance. No employer paid health insurance no medicare, medicaid. Nothing. Cash and carry. Now the hospitals can' t turn you away so you get treated but what happens when you can't pay? Do they force you into bankruptcy and garnishee your wages for the next dozen years? Oh,... that's what happens now when you lose your employer sponsored health insurance, work at a job without health benefits that disqualifies you and your family from medicaid, or if you have a pre-existing condition (including pregnancy).

We could make health insurance universal. Everyone pays enough to cover all of the health care costs, and the guaranteed profits of the insurance companies. Think of Uncle Guido, you know that Italian uncle with all the cash who never seems to work, and who can make people disappear? Him. The insurance companies assume no risk because they are guaranteed new customers every year and everyone has to pay. Nice deal  huh?

Or We could collectively insure ourselves. That is we all pay in to the pot and we all get our bills paid. Everybody pays, every body is covered and we empower Uncle Sam to stop cheats and scam artists.

The first question is do we want health care for all? If the answer is yes than lets find the most efficient solution. If the answer is no, then get rid of the vultures and lets go back to native medicines.... but wait, that's the subject of another discussion.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chapter One The Revolution

We need a revolution.

Not a violent uprising. Not crowds rioting in the streets. No guns and soldiers. We've been through all that and the result is the United States of America as constituted. And that constitution is pretty damned good.

Wait a second, I see the eyes rolling in the back of your heads. Mention the constitution and immediately you see the angry white men hiding in the woods with their hunting rifles declaring that the only way you get their gun is from their cold dead hand. OK that's a little on the extreme side.

The revolution we need is in our public discussion of the goals and tactics of our country. If our military provides the blood of patriots that keeps us free then the freedom of the press is the sword of that freedom. However we have let the corporations buy and sell the rights to our opinions. You might hold a difference of opinion with FOX news or CNN but who blogs against British Petroleum (We're here to stay....) or the Coal Lobby (We are the future....)

The most insidious commercials are the are the ones that show Mom fixing breakfast on a clean counter in a fifty thousand dollar kitchen. Or worse yet are the networks dedicated to housing remodeling or purchasing new houses. The expectations are unrealistic. The life shown on commercial TV, not just in the shows, is so far from our reality it does us a disservice.

What we need is an honest discussion about what our goals as a country should be. What our ideals should be. Do we agree that the poor are our brothers? Or are they a problem to be dealt with (until we become one of them). Should we idolize success at any cost, or should success on the bodies of others be condemned and criminalized? Also what about the statement made that corporations are people too? Should they be treated as entities? Has a corporation the right to exist? To profit? Does a corporation have a moral responsibility? Can it be a victim? Or can it be a felon? How do you put a corporation in jail? Can it tell the truth?

As you can see there is need for discussion.

But not the dogmatic exchange of thoughtless rhetoric and canned talking points that passes for political discourse in this country. No wonder politics and religion are topics banned from public discussion. These are the very topics that most influence our lives.

There will be times I will frame these questions and the more specific derivative issues in Christian terms as well as historic terms or political ones. This doesn't imply I am a Christian dogmatist.That's a whole other discussion and one I'll cover later.

Skipping over the great religious questions of the day (should a woman be allowed to control whether or not she is pregnant, should we make abortion a death penalty offense, should Wal Mart be open all day on Sunday too?) we need to discuss our basic values.

Should life be fair?

Well its not, but if we can help make it more fair should we? Or should we let the strongest and most ruthless control how we live and what we think? Is order more important than freedom? Are these two ideals mutually exclusive? What does it mean to be 'equal'?

But before we bubble into a cacophony of voices and opinions (assuming anyone is still paying attention) lets think about the rules of discussion.

First the object of a discussion is to compare, contrast and resolve opposing viewpoints. Plato understood this and used the technique with a lot of success when he described the model of the Spartan city state.

Second a compelling argument doesn't make it true. Facts make it true. Check the facts, use the facts. Verify the facts. And make sure you dig deeper into the facts than what's presented. What's not told might be more important that what is shown.

Third, just because something is true and accurate doesn't make it compelling nor does it describe all the events and forces that came before it.

Fourth: A good idea is just that, an idea, a hypothesis, that which is to be proven. Ideas have to change to fit the facts. You can't change the facts to fit the idea. That's one of the fallacies that has caused the current troubles...(Pick a year, pick a problem, pick a government ).

Fifth: History is the final arbiter. In the end the arguments of the Roman senate and the demands of the plebeians from the stands were answered with the barbarian's spear and fire that destroyed the Roman empire.


So feel free to join this discussion. If not with me than with your family or coworkers. Remember each and everyone of you is part of the revolution. Don't fear dissent embrace it. We live in a free country because we can dissent.

Speak up!!!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Watertown - Ghost Town of Northern New York

Yesterday I took a long look at the downtown area of Watertown, because my son believes there is a need for a cultural nexus on the square. What I saw was a shadow of the past. A crumbling reminder of the economy my father declared a failure in 1968. Those days, where downtown was being demolished to allow for 'modernization', seems like the golden age compared to the desolation on the square today.

I've lived in and around Watertown most of my adult life. I've worked for many of the major employers over the last thirty odd years. And I've watched the effects of the economic principles  that we have used to run our economy over the past four decades destroy a remarkable community.

Watertown was built along the Black River, a rolling torrent fed from the Adirondacks and flowing into Lake Ontario, one of the five great inland seas that bound Canada and the Norther portion of the United States. The river was never navigable for any great stretch but its forceful flow provided power for hydro powered factories in the nineteenth century followed by hydro electric dams and local power in the twentieth century. Industry and business flourished in the North Country. Watertown grew around Factory street and the town Square. Farms fed the factory workers and new immigrants moved in from Ireland and Italy to build the railroads and work in the mills.

Watertown flourished as a city of middle class families with lots of children and many families grew wealthy from the industry.

When I was a young man in the early 1980's many of the factories were gone or downsizing. Many of the businesses in town were owned by corporations with no ties to the North Country. And with no interest in the welfare of the people. We still had several high end manufacturing plants including the New York Air Brake/ Dynapower with over 1200 union workers, and Fisher Gauge with its skilled tool makers. There were three electric motor plants making consumer appliance motors. Most of their production work force were women, but they made more than decent money for the time.

Around the area were flourishing restaurants, houses were well kept, most middle aged people owned camps on the lake, and kids went to college with very little debt. Stuck in all sorts of odd corners were entrepreneurial businesses making ski lifts and fire trucks and machining armatures for large induction motors.

These places are gone now.

Many of the family restaurants are gone now.

Downtown Watertown when I was a kid had a grocery store (the A&P which is a parking lot today) and JC Penney's  (also gone) and clothing stores, and people. There was a bookstore on lower court street I used to go to when my parents were in town. I would walk the aisles and discover wonderful new places. There was a music store where you could get classical music.

The barrenness of downtown hurts.  I can't see what my son sees. The wealth and the hope of new wealth has been ripped from this area by the needs of the corporate economy. We have been discarded. People have pointed to Fort Drum as the salvation for the North Country, but I have to disagree. Fort Drum is life support. If the Army closed the Installation there would be nothing left to sustain the city as anything more than a holding place for people with no place else to go.

The point of this drive down memory lane was to say that the economic model of the twentieth century was a failure. It is incapable of sustained growth and does serve the needs of society.

People aren't the food of an economy. We are the purpose. If the basic goals of the economy aren't to support the people and a healthy productive and happy society then the goals need to change. Economics aren't natural laws, but rather a structure used to satisfy our wants and needs.

And when the structure doesn't satisfy us, we need to change it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Economics 911

I am not an economist.

Well, I, like everyone else, am a practical economist. Money comes in. Money goes out. If I'm smart more money comes in than goes out. Otherwise I'm in trouble.

The essence of income is work. When I was in grade school I was taught we worked to make products to trade for products we wanted. Sally made pies and traded them to Sue who made dresses who gave the pie to Frank so he would fix the kitchen sink... So in my grade school economics work = income.

So the great economic thinkers redefined wealth from this simple grade school idea. They've been saying that wealth needs to be gathered in great piles so it can fornicate and make more money. So the income, the fruits of our labors has been piled up in counting houses and allowed to procreate.

The results of this fornication and procreation is large amalgamations of wealth in the hands of a few.

This might almost make sense except there is a problem with their economic theory. Once they strip the last bit of income from our cold dead hands there is no one to make things or buy things or create new wealth.

Create new wealth?

Yeah. Sally makes the pie. The pie has value. It didn't have value before Sally made it. Afterwards it get's Sally a new dress and Sue's sink fixed. And if Frank uses his pie wisely, like sharing it with Betty, he might even get to fornicate and procreate.

So if this simple minded approach satisfies the needs of the many, why has it been necessary to develop convoluted economic models and paradigms to satisfy the few? Work and the results of work belong to the those directly involved. The argument between opposing economic philosophies over the last hundred and fifty years is based on control and not on results.

Communism as a state run soulless economic machine failed miserably because the implementation of Marxist theory eliminated the rights and joys of the individual.

Capitalism in turn is crashing to the ground on the weight of its own profound greed and shortsightedness.

In both philosophies the individual is disregarded.

I've heard arguments like this is an either or decision. I hope not. Because if it is I really hope the world ends on December 21.

Please read Umair Haque http://www.umairhaque.com/

Sunday, April 01, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird.... or Trayvon versus Zimmerman

At this point in the point in the exploitation of the death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman's gun the only fact not in dispute is that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin.

In the interest of full disclosure let me say I have a carry permit and more than one handgun suitable for short range combat. I am not a police officer nor was I trained as a soldier so I have effectively no combat training.

The most important thing I was told by the police detective who interviewed me before I was given my license was not to pull my gun unless I had to use it.

He didn't mean to pound nails.

It took a while for the lesson to sink in. The only legitimate reason I could pull out one of these uncomfortable chunks of metal and point it at someone was because I believed that person was going to kill or severely injure either myself or some nearby defenseless person. That's a real tough judgment call in my opinion, especially when you're not trained to make those decisions.

The other thought that finally came to my mind... The only reason I'm carrying this gun is to kill someone. I can't warn them. I can't threaten them. I have to kill them (or at least try to kill them). That made me very cautious about when I carried my gun.

I wonder about Mr. Zimmerman. He's a young man in good health. A rough and tumble street fight with an unarmed opponent shouldn't have been such a threat he needed lethal force. In my opinion.

But I wasn't there.

On the other hand why would Trayvon jump a white guy in a white neighborhood who is obviously carrying a gun? Oh the gun was concealed... right. So Trayvon thought he'd get tough with the white dude following him... in a gated community noted for having a community watch...

I have a lot of questions for Mr. Zimmerman and the police, but none really for Trayvon. He could reasonably have turned and confronted Zimmerman or tried to run or even attacked Zimmerman, but in any case he was unarmed and alone and in a strange neighborhood, while Zimmerman was in communication with the police and carrying a pistol, locked cocked and ready to rock. (That means he had a round in the chamber, the gun was ready to fire as soon as the safety was released and the trigger pulled. In other words Mr. Zimmerman was ready to kill someone.

I like the Florida stand your ground law. I think it's the right action in certain circumstances. Like if someone with a gun is shooting at you or people nearby (like this random gunmen that like to gun down unarmed people)... then I think a person who is carrying his weapon should return fire and try to kill the individual. I think a woman threatened with rape should gun down her attacker. I wouldn't mind if she shot his nuts off. I think old people should be allowed to defend themselves.

Self defense should be considered a basic right.

But the question I have is: Who was ready to kill that night? The man with the gun or the boy with the skittles?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Romney as Commander in Chief.... or through the Looking Glass...

The Republicans are barking at the moon again. They want a war... Any war. Romney is even criticizing Obama for not having enlarged the Army by enough troops. He wants another 100,000.

But he doesn't want to pay for the troops, their training, or housing.

We don't have anyplace to put a hundred thousand soldiers in peace time. Except in other countries.

I guess I'm very afraid that the people who think Obama is really an African Muslim will prevail in the next election, dooming our soldiers to more endless guerrilla wars.

The last time we defeated a dedicated native militia was the Indian Wars of the 1800s. And then we had to kill their families, steal their children, steal their land and starve them into submission.

We haven't had the stomach, thank the Lord, for that kind of dedicated slaughter since.

Except we are pushing our soldiers to the breaking point. Like the SFC that went amok in Afghanistan. Whatever justification he gives for his actions we're going to execute him. And it will be our fault for having allowed these wars and these endless deployments to go on.

So I really don't want another armchair general starting more wars and rattling his sabre. We've had enough. We can fight a decisive year long conflict with any army in the world. But we can't fight sand which is the nature of the guerilla war.