Ideas, Linked; Ideals, Inked.

Need for Public Healthcare

To all those opposing a public option (essentially, a Medicare-for-all option to all Americans), here’s a simple way to explain the problem:

Assuming the 48 million number bandied about as the number of uninsured people, the equivalent population of 26 states are not covered!

District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Mexico
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Dakota
West Virginia

And that doesn’t even cover the under-insured. If the estimates aof some 55 million are correct, add Louisiana to the list.

27 states people. Come on! Get it done, and with the public option.

EDIT: I pulled my data directly from population tables, sorted from lowest-to-highest, and kept adding till I got close to 48 million.


Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized, , , ,

Republican Schism: Ideology Vs. Political Philosophy

Great Slate article discussing how conservatives are going to have a hard time with this.

Slate should be more clear though, when they say “conservatives”. There are really two somewhat-overlapping blocks of conservatives, and I think they really mean Republicans.

The modern Republican Party is a tenuous a marriage of convenience between two fundamentally incongruent ideas, politically. The case described in the above article tears at the heart of the tenuous relationship built by two very different types of “conservatives” to make the Republican Party:

Ideology: This is a focus on “traditional family” or “traditional values”. These are people who often fuse religion with political perspectives. All in all, these are generally connected to “social issues.”

Political Philosophy: This is the focus on “small government” and “states rights”, also known as “federalism”. In general, federalist thinking weights the balance of power between states and central government TOWARD the individual states. Essentially, this is a political belief in the supremacy of local government over central government. As such, they see the Constitution as saying power rests at the state level EXCEPT where explicitly stated otherwise. These are the “Live Free or Die” types.

Political conservatives are a dying breed within the Republican Party, but they view governance as bottom-up. The fundamental belief that government is at its best on a local level, and that each larger tier of government is a further removed from the people. Laws should have minimized and localized impact only.  This wing is no longer relevant, in terms of power, within the Republican Party (see Jim Jeffords).

Ideological conservatives within the Republican Party are currently led by ostensibly-Christian groups. As a bloc, they tend view the world through a top-down moralistic perspective, wherein morality literally “trickling down” from God and Jesus through government. Morals, therefore, must be enshrined in law and enforced from the top downward. This wing was strongest between 1996-2008. Since many “enemies” were ‘excommunicated” from relevance within the party, Republicans are floundering for a new voice that encapsulates both sides (e.g, Ronald Reagan), only to find there are no true political conservatives left.

Now, there are ways the ideology and political philosophy are congruent. Localities may have certain values (say, related to school prayer), where they believe the Federal Government has no say in the outcome. But when it comes to situations where conservative ideology comes up against conservative political philosophy, the Republicans are actually weighed down by ideology.

It should be interesting to see how this particular DOMA case turns out, because there is a strong politically-conservative Constitutional argument in favor of gay spousal rights.

It would take some intellectual gymnastics to say otherwise. But I have faith that Scalia, Roberts, and Alito will somehow be able to inject ideology into the SCOTUS. They always do, and claim it to be “original intent”.

Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gingrich: “Gays and Secular Fascists”

This is precisely why Newt Gingrich is a reprehensible politician and will never elevate himself to the statesman status he clearly covets.

He actually called people who believe in EQUAL RIGHTS fascists. There was a time when liberals used to throw that word around with reckless abandon. But at least they understood the meaning. A fascist wants to impose government power upon the powerless, to strengthen the nation AT THE EXPENSE of its citizens, typically, the military-industrial complex.

There was a time when conservatives used a slightly more accurate epithet to describe people who believed in equality: communist.

Were this any other Republican, I’d be less up-in-arms. But Newt Gingrich isn’t just any Republican. In 1971, he received a PhD in “Modern European History” from Tulane, an excellent school. And, in 1971, you can bet everyone understood the political continuum, and where different ideas and values fit. And an American exceptionalist such as Gingrich would understand precisely where America, liberals in America, and conservatives in America, fit on that continuum.

Here goes:

Fascism is all the way over there on the far right. Communism is all the way over there, on the far left. From the right, we have plutocracy, monarchy, and oligarchy. From the right (typo) left are socialism and other collectivist views. And in the middle are republicanism (small “r”) and democracy (small “d”). American conservatives tend towards the former, and American liberals tend toward the latter.

NB: anarchy, being technically the absence of formal government, is not included on this. Libertarianism is a flavor of the impetus toward small “d” democracy.

Some would argue that the continuum is curved, to make something of a “U” or a circle, demonstrating that fascism and communism are, in their implementations, closer to each other than their ideals tell us they are. This is because on one extreme is the sovereignty of a single individual, who is in essence the country, and on the other is sovereignty of the collective national. In the middle is where sovereignty of the individual has its highest place.

So Gingrich knows better. He’s a historian who knows precisely how these ideologies fit on the spectrum, and precisely where those who want government to let them have individual rights actually belong: in the middle. He also is a politician, and knows precisely how his words would be understood.

What does this say about this type of Republican? They are using specific words to code for the fact that they, the moralist Christians (who tend to religious oligarchy) are the oppressed faction by those who want individual rights.

Victim language.

They also use rights language, like “small government”, to imply they want government out of their hair.

You cannot simultaneously want government out of your hair and expect it to enforce ANY moral value (Christian or otherwise). American government is not meant to protect the rights of the empowered against the powerless. It is meant to do the opposite.

You’re powerful, Mr. Gingrich, and playing victim is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s also dangerous. Because America has ACTUAL victims who need ACTUAL help. And when you enable the mindless cronies who DON’T understand history (such as O’Reilly) to practice that victimhood, you are enabling a whole slate boys who cried wolf. Hurting the powerless.

This is not a petty argument. And it’s not about whether gay marriage is right or wrong. It’s about abusing power to keep it, and abusing language to twist reality. White married heterosexual men are the most powerful people in this country. Clinging to power by pretending to be a victim is reprehensible. Someone ought to speak for the ACTUAL victims (though I myself am not one) and say this to you, Mr. Gingrich: You practice the most vile kind of un-Americanism that exists. You know you are lying to keep power, and yet you do it anyway.

Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Commentary: Team of Rivals

Doris Kearns Goodwin is zeitgeist right now. The very notion of a “team of rivals” is hot stuff.

But what is best to enable policy? And is Obama actively looking for a team of rivals, or not? AND, most importantly, in the contemporary media era, where many of these supposed rivals are themselves limelight-seekers, how can a President Obama manage the situation?

First: Enabling the Best Policy

Good mangers want the best people in the right positions that enable a smooth flow of work and information. In fact, with all the talk of Bush running the country like a CEO, I wonder if Obama is going to out-CEO him. It looks like it. The best CEOs lay out a vision, get the best possible people to enable the vision, and  With McCain over here, Clinton there, and rumors of Hagel and Lugar flying around, there appears to be no qualified person considered off-limits. By eliminating the “ideology litmus test”, Obama is opening the door for more people.

Chances are, no “heckuva job, Brownie”s this time around.

Second: An ACTUAL Team of Rivals?

Maybe. In his 60 Minutes interview, he implied that he is, he read the book, and sees division as a major problem in this country. I don’t know if this is possible. There is a careful line between creative dissonance and just dissonance, between constructive chaos and simply chaos. Without clear lines of control, and the power to assert authority, and Obama White House could look inept.

The Rahm Emanuel appointment as Chief of Staff is something of a relief, in this matter. Emanuel is an enforcer, by most accounts, and can help manage big egos…

Third: Managing Egos

President-elect Obama’s ego is well-managed by his poise, cool thoughtfulness, warm family narrative, and obvious intellectual abilities. In other words, so far, he wears the robes of power, and they do not wear him (see Bush, George W). This is important: including McCain, Clinton, and various “rivals” (who themselves have and had clear presidential aspriations) in the administration means finding ways to check their personal self-aggrandizement against the success of policy-making and peace-making.

McCain seems the most willing to play the role of constructive thorn, local expert, and general statesman. Clinton has two things that work against her, politically and polciy-wise: 1) Bill Clinton cares a LOT about his legacy; and 2) Hillary Clinton wants to be President someday. Playing second-chair to Obama may be difficult for her/them. Not because of personal character flaws, per se, but because the Clintons know how to use the media to serve their agenda (which is sometimes a personal one, and sometimes a public one). The key here, then, is to make sure the Clinton agenda is brought in line with the Obama agenda. Or, more accurately, that the Clinton agenda is not in conflict with the Obama agenda.

In typical times, this would not be easy. The 2008 Financial Tornado provides an opportunity for a future President Obama to ask EVERYONE to subordinate personal agendas for the greater good. When he was saying this to the DNC in 2004, it sounded, to steal his phrase, “like happy talk.” During his nomination acceptance speech in 2008, it sounded like the talk of someone earnestly trying to recall, and recapture, a time when great people strode the earth with positive purpose. But as 2009 approaches, it’s looking more and more like “the only option.”

This is good, not only for him, but for all of us. We ALL must subordinate our personal good for the greater good. There is an inherent Kennedy-esque equality that Obama has called for. Selfishness and greed wounded us, and this helps “We, the people” to be willing to sign up for his cause of service. Being a a “media whore” looks worse today than it did a year ago, because the limelight now asks for seriousness, and for results. Sarah Palin’s name being increasingly used as a punchline is evidence of this fact.

In the end, the Team of Rivals works as long as there is a cause to fight for together. And that is President Obama’s greatest challenge – to keep us called to causes of greater good, and make us believe the cause is worth fighting for. The moment things get too easy, too black-and-white, and we get too complacent, that is the moment when the team of rivals is no longer helpful.

Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

(Media) Blackout, Open Letter to John McCain

The new McCain has yet to emerge from his hole and tell us if it will continue to be winter or if summer is around the corner. So far, they feel as though a media blackout is the best way to go. The new McCain has been the opposite of the 2000 self.

Oh well. John McCain was once the guy who could reach through the chatter, across the aisle, and say the things that needed saying. He used to believe in country before party. He used to believe in doing the right thing, even if it was unpopular. John McCain was even considered by John Kerry for running mate, remember.

Open Letter to Senator McCain

Senator McCain, if you actually read this, I have only this to say: it’s too bad that you mortgaged your values for a campaign. You used to be the one to cut the crap, now you run with it. You used to be a Barry Goldwater Republican, and now you are a Dick Cheney Republican. I’m going to ignore the fact that you are running against Obama, and ask you this – what happened? You were an aisle-crosser. You called a spade a spade when you criticized Bush for pandering at Bob Jones University. Then you supported George Wallace Jr, a frequenter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a well-known white-supremacist/segregationist organization.

Senator McCain, I used to like you. I honestly believed that you could remake American politics. You were the honorable Republican in the room, yelling at the liars on both sides of the aisle. You were a critic, the check, the balance, that made the Republican party pause. You were Barry Goldwater’s intellectual heir. A true conservative who believed in state’s rights and libertarian values.

But no more. Your choice of Governor Palin is illustrative of this – she is a shoot-first thinker, with none of the qualities that made you a maverick. You were a maverick because you stood up for beliefs regardless of who agreed with you, and yet you worked with those who didn’t. She is a maverick because she refuses to cooperate with anyone who disagrees with her.  You were a maverick because you believed in radical transparency and government accountability. She is a maverick because she is shockingly opaque in her decision-making process, and tries to find ways to skirt accountability. You, on the other hand, were above such pettiness. That is why Democrats and Republicans alike used to think of you as a statesman.

No longer.

Your lies are shocking and obvious in the public, and your campaign reflects a Bush/Palin approach – opaque, divisive, and obfuscatory – and not the McCain we believed in. When it comes to the issues, I’m not surprised at some of your stances. But then you supported invading Iraq, despite the lack of intelligence. And you now no longer believe torture is torture? You, of all people?

And now you think the judicial system rules by fiat? Those justices you now admire believe the Constitution doesn’t apply to all people, and the government can do whatever they want to those people. That’s fiat. And the ones you don’t like are saying government should be small, and should protect people from those with power. That’s protecting individual liberty. Saying you “oppose judicial activism” is code for saying you only support people who agree with you. I recommend you read the Barnette case. And Marbury vs. Madison. You clearly don’t understand the role of courts, and how they always scale back government power. You’re talking now like the anti-Goldwater, a watered-down version of Bush. You’ve become the person you didn’t like.

If you are willing to forego your beliefs for victory, then you clearly deceived me, and America. “Straight talk” indeed. It doesn’t really matter to me now which one of you is the “real” John McCain, because you clearly showed your willingness to put party unity, and electoral victory, above the needs and wants of the United States of America. Senator McCain, I said in 1996 that you would have been a more compelling candidate than Bob Dole, I said in 1998 that I hope you are the 2000 Republican candidate because then it is not a choice between two evils, and I said in 2000 that I hope you hold Bush accountable.

Senator McCain, you failed me. If you win in November, it will be in spite of people like me, who used to think you were better than the bunch.

Best regards,


Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On the Financial Crisis, II – the Bailout

I think this says a lot. Thomas Jefferson’s hypocrisy aside (the man was a serial debtor, and the opposite of a “common man”), there is value in looking at government’s complicity in this. Connect that to this:

And now we have a funny money party. Simply put, yay.

Here’s the thing, if there is a thing at all: the POINT of government is not to protect the economic system first. It is to protect the people first. Economic well-being of the people happens to be a part of that, but not the only part. The Federal Reserve system is good for the people as long as the robber barons are held in check. The moment we start financing the wealthy is the moment that the system falls apart.

And Paulson wants more cash? To the tune of $700 billion? What have you done for me lately, Henry?

I’ve said this several times, and I’ll say it again: trickle-down economics is a spectacular failure. Giving money to the rich, whether they be rich corporations or wealthy individuals, is equivalent to mortgaging the future for temporary instant benefit.

The point of representative government is to protect the powerless from the powerful, no matter what. Government is the intermediary that says, “I don’t care who you are or think you are, you are equal in my eyes.”

Why is it, then, that someone who represents one of the most polarizing aspects of the wealth-creation industry, can simply demand from Congress $700 billion dollars, no strings attached? Meanwhile, my poor homeless neighbors have to fill out cumbersome government paperwork to get food stamps?

This is absurdity at its best. The Depression is coming, and it will come at the hands of the wealthy attempting to maintain centers of wealth rather than making sure the wealth pays for something better. Like schools, universal healthcare, solving the homeless problem, more police, protecting the environment… For starters.

UPDATE (15:10 EDT)

Says Paulson: “I hate the fact that we have to do it, but it’s better than the alternative.”

I disagree. The alternative – financial firms collapsing under their own egotist weight, is not a bad thing. If you want a free market, with unfettered access to profits, you deserve the consequences of the greed. We do not have to do it.

Plus, Mr. Paulson, here’s the alternative: Since THE PEOPLE are buying out these companies, we should own them. Each American – men, women, and children – is footing approximately $2300 of the bill, we should each be given 23 shares valued at $100 apiece of the government holding company which owns the companies affected by the crisis. Let’s call the government holding company “Baily Hank” (named for Paulson, and with an eye to government naming conventions). Now for a few rules:

  1. Instituting “Baily Hank” means restoring reasonable bankruptcy rules for individuals, and making corporate bankruptcy harder to declare.
  2. Baily Hank will operate like a special mutual fund, owned by the people.
  3. The amount of bailout funds received versus market value is equivalent to the number of seats on the Board of every company THE PEOPLE have. This percentage will then stay constant. For instance, if a company is valued $1 billion, and received $750 million from Baily Hank, then 3/4ths of the seats are controlled by we, the people of the United States.
  4. Companies under Baily Hank must pay out dividends to its shareholders, us.
  5. A company under Baily Hank can buy itself out of the government holding company, but only for equal or more REAL value than it received to be “saved” by Baily Hank. So, if Baily Hank gave $400 million in 2008 dollars to the company, that company’s board must pay that amount or more (in 2008 dollars) to us, the people of the United States.
  6. Certain special rules apply to any company receiving funds out of Baily Hank, like CEO pay rules mentioned in my previous post.
Alternatively, Baily Hank can be a special high-interest loan (prime + 10%). If the companies really want to be bailed out, they need to pay it back. I prefer the above plan better, though. I may be missing some important rules, though. Thoughts?

Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

Empire in Decline: Waning SCOTUS Influence

Interesting article using data (!) to show that the influence of the Supreme Court Of The United States (SCOTUS) is waning, and quickly.

Among the reasons – foreign and international tribunals are more sophisticated, they are quoting each other, and the US decisions are less in keeping with foreign beliefs. However, there is a strong anti-foreign influence (I call it “the Pat Buchanan effect”). From the piece:

The adamant opposition of some Supreme Court justices to the citation of foreign law in their own opinions also plays a role, some foreign judges say.

“Most justices of the United States Supreme Court do not cite foreign case law in their judgments,” Aharon Barak, then the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, wrote in the Harvard Law Review in 2002. “They fail to make use of an important source of inspiration, one that enriches legal thinking, makes law more creative, and strengthens the democratic ties and foundations of different legal systems.”

Partly as a consequence, Chief Justice Barak wrote, the United States Supreme Court “is losing the central role it once had among courts in modern democracies.”

So what our staunchest ally‘s Chief Justice is saying is this: xenophobia is ruining American jurisprudential influence over the world. 

Thinking historically, the US Supreme Court is the oldest Consitutional court in the world, making its influence significant. That means we have been giving our ideas away. Moreover, we have always taken ideas in from other countries and adopted and adapted them. Fast forward to today, and Justices Roberts and Alito have said, unequivocally, that they oppose using foreign court opinions to influence their thinking.


A good idea is a good idea no matter where it came from. A thoughtful perspective is thoughtful no matter what language it was said in. Imagine if our Founders (who the forementioned Justices claim to be reading the intent of) refused to take ideas from the French, or English, or the Native Americans. We would have no law. No common law. No civil law. No Constitutional law. Heck, the very concept of habeas corpus, written into our Constitution, is a principle articulated in another document – the Magna Carta – and articulated through over 500 years of British jurisprudence until the exalted Founders were born.

So I call bullshit on not sharing. It’s selfish, stupid, and a sure sign of the end of American superiority. If we’re so afraid that borrowing other ideas dilutes American ones, then “these colors DO run”, to turn a phrase around. The whole point of the American Constitutional design is that the power of ideas weighs more strongly than blood, creed, or nationality. The American dream that I learned about was the one where merit matters, not citizenship.

Ask a good professor, inventor, or economist if sharing ideas is good. They will all say yes. American innovation is borne out of synthesis. It is borne from something being greater than the sum of its parts. It is borne out of the fundamental kindergarten idea – sharing is good. Why? It also reflects an American idea, that participation is good, and necessary. Americans, particularly our supposed intellectual leaders, need to participate in the worldwide marketplace of ideas, lest WE become the 21st century version of the old world our Founders extricated themselves from: slow, plodding, and selfish.

To my mind, this thinking is indicative of an empire into decline. The moment an non-expansionist empire (which we are) thinks itself so superior that it does not need to even consider the points of views of outsiders, the decay is well under way. If that superiority is borne out of xenophobia, then the empire is already afraid that it can no longer sustain itself.

Luckily, there are ways to forestall the decay, intellectually speaking.  Share. And share some more. Foreigners who meet Americans always find them to be among the most hospitable people they’ve ever met. That is because we like to share. But sharing is a two way street – we need to take as good as we give.

Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

Truth Vs. Truthiness

A recent post in the NYTimes Freakonomics blog demonstrates the difference between the truth and the “truthy“.

Looking at the tax plans presented by the two major party candidates, the Washington Post takes a crack at it. It’s clear that there is a semblance of balance. There is, as we can see, a small note about where the population actually is. Either way, the eyes believe one thing, while the language says something else.

Here is a better visualization from the chartjunk blog, which shows where tax cuts really are. Read the commentary from karmanaut (Viveka Weiley) and you can see how it makes more sense. While Wiley says that her(?) map is truthier, it is indeed more truthful regarding the population.

The third chart shows some real interesting stuff – tax burden. It seems clear to me that Obama’s team used this to determine cuts. Looking at the third chart, what I don’t understand is why McCain’s plan isn’t ALSO flipped, or at least flat. Reducing tax burden on the bottom bracket is essentially harmless. He could sell his tax cuts much more effectively if it showed that he was more fiscally-prudent. He proves here to be finding no way to bring money into the Federal budget.

Kudos to New York Times for pointing these things out.

Now, this is where I fight die-hard Republicans all the time. They say the rich will stimulate the economy, and the benefits will trickle down. I disagree, based on data from a non-partisan source. I think the bank failures are pointing to the fact that I’m right. Trickle-down has not benefited tax brackets below the top couple.

I invite dissent.

Filed under: media, Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Palin: What Bush doctrine?

Note: If you don’t know what the Bush doctrine is, you’ve been living in the tundra trying to build a bridge to nowhere. Alaska jokes aside, foreign policy matters for the Executive Branch, and being aware of the most important American foreign policy shift in the last 60 years is a little important. From the ABC interview, enough reason not to vote for McCain:

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush — well, what do you — what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that’s the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

Ermmm… This is downright scary. There was a time when Americans respected leaders we could look up to. Now we want them to be average peers. I thought we celebrated the exceptional.

Sarah Palin had ample time to prepare for the interview, which itself was fully managed by the campaign, and lives in, as she says, a state where you can see Russia.

Matt Gonzalez (Green Party) is a more serious VP candidate than Palin. Hilary Clinton would have been, too. If the rule was that McCain needed to get a woman to steal some of the Hilary vote, McCain should have selected Christie Todd Whitman. Then, the question would be whether liberals (and New Jersey) would go to McCain. He would be seen as a maverick by picking a true moderate. And Obama couldn’t simply set up camp in the middle ground and let the Hilary supporters come to him. Instead McCain antagonized half the country, and made the “maverick” moniker a joke.

Oh… The Bush doctrine is the idea of pre-emptive strikes against potential threats. It overturns over 100 years of no war except to defend allies or to respond to attacks. It was used to start the Iraq War.

Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, , , , , , , , ,

Intellectual Property

What fun it is to consider that the idea of this sentence is owned by me.

I can now claim that anyone who has decided to replicate the sentence above is not only in violation of copyright, but is violating the DMCA and can be sent a cease-and-desist letter. The best part is, if I believe a person is infringing, and send the C&D, that person must take down the sentence, even if it bears no relation my sentence. UNLESS, that person submits a counter-claim that, indeed, it is not infringing. Which requires a lawyer. Which costs money.

Guilty until proven innocent. Innocence proven using money. Therefore, money = freedom.


Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, , ,

Things On My Mind



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