August 5, 2012

Limited government and states’ rights are both central to the Republican Party’s platform, but the manner in which these two concepts interact can infringe on individual liberties and deny equality. For example, many Republicans and Tea Partiers have called for the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Mitt Romney has repeatedly said that the health care legislation he passed as Governor of Massachusetts, which is very similar to “Obamacare,” was good for Massachusetts but not for the entire country. Essentially, the Republican argument is that national health care reform is somehow infringing on states’ rights and that “Obamacare” is an intrusive government “takeover” of health care. Yet, how could people with pre-existing conditions be guaranteed health care insurance without a national law?

Typically, limited government is equated with freedom, but in numerous instances limited government would actually result in the loss of legal protections. “Big government” can protect individual liberties and enable each person’s “pursuit of happiness” in ways that limited government cannot. If we as a society believe that people with pre-existing conditions should be able to receive affordable health care insurance, then the law guaranteeing such insurance should apply to all fifty states. Again, limited government would say that health insurance providers should be allowed to deny coverage, that the “market” should be allowed to work without government intrusion, that corporations have “rights” too, but such a situation does not protect “life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness” for real people. In such a situation government is needed to protect liberty and guarantee equality.

Another issue that involves a discussion of limited government, states’ rights, freedom, and equality is same-sex marriage. Recently, there has been news that the Democratic Party may include, for the first time, language supporting same-sex marriage in its official party platform at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. If so, I imagine that many social conservatives will interpret this as an assault on their worldview and will become more enthusiastic supporters of Mitt Romney. In my opinion, cultural issues should be less important than economic concerns in the upcoming election, and hopefully the presidential debates will provide a clear choice on economic policies, but a discussion of same-sex marriage may be worthwhile for those of you who are undecided on the legal issue of same-sex marriage despite possible personal objections to it on religious grounds.

Many Republicans and Tea Partiers, particularly on the issue of gun control, insist that government should not intrude on people’s personal lives and activities. Now, you may be thinking that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms and that the Constitution in no way guarantees the right to get married. Admittedly, gun rights activists have more explicit language to point to in the Constitution, but if same-sex marriage cannot be upheld interpreting the current law of the land, then why did conservatives during the Bush years try so hard to pass a constitutional amendment, a national law, specifically forbidding it?  Furthermore, what’s more harmful to society: marriages or massacres?

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in some states and outlawed in other states. Does this make sense? Should same-sex marriage be a states’ rights issue? Should slavery have been a states’ rights issue? Obviously, the Confederacy thought that slavery should be a state’s right and South Carolina, the state with the largest percentage of slaves, seceded from the Union before Lincoln even took office. Should racial discrimination be a states’ rights issue? Obviously, the South thought that separate facilities for whites and blacks should be a state’s right, but the result was that blacks in the South did not have the same individual liberties as blacks in other parts of the country (even though racial discrimination existed all over America) and that blacks did not have legal equality with whites. Ultimately, the federal government did what state governments could not do: passed national legislation outlawing racial discrimination.

Many people scoff at comparisons between the situation of blacks before the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBT community today. People interpret the past through the moral sensibilities of the present. They say: “of course slavery was wrong, and of course racial discrimination was wrong.” They act as if it were inevitable that Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, or that Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act. Today, these changes seem like common sense. People cannot even imagine society being like it used to be. People imagine that they would not have upheld the morality of the past that was eventually declared deeply immoral. Somehow, all of the societal and cultural changes of the past seem like expected progress, but the changes of the present seem radical, strange, and immoral. Somehow, all of history’s progress is celebrated, but the present’s progress is denounced. If we as a society believe that people should have the right and the freedom to marry the person they love, then the law guaranteeing that right should apply to all fifty states.

Presently, many social conservatives argue that it is both common sense and morally upright to oppose same-sex marriage and other forms of legal and social equality for the LGBT community. Four generations ago, enough people in Texas thought it was common sense and morally upright to secede from the Union in defense of slavery, or “states’ rights,” and to declare: “in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations” (Declaration of Causes, 1861). Our students pledge their allegiance to the Texas flag everyday after pledging their allegiance to the U.S. flag. I would argue that their allegiance should be directed towards the flag that attempts to guarantee “liberty and justice for all.”

 
 
January 15, 2012

The Republican primaries have begun! Mitt Romney won both Iowa and New Hampshire, having received 24% and 39% of the vote. Ron Paul finished third in Iowa and second in New Hampshire, having received 21% and 23% of the vote.

Interestingly, the corporate media and conservative commentators have pretended that Ron Paul does not exist, presumably with the intent to marginalize his foreign policy positions; and have repeatedly suggested that conservatives do not want Romney to be the Republican nominee. Obviously, there is a gap between what the media wants voters to think and what voters actually do think. So, for those of you who are supporters of Romney or Paul, despite the best efforts of the media, I would like to offer some things to think about as the primary season continues.

Firstly, Ron Paul has the youth vote! This should worry conservatives because some of his positions are quite anathema to Republican dogma, his foreign policy being the most obvious. However, it seems to be his overall libertarianism, from which his foreign policy stances flow, that is attracting so many young people. Friedrich Hayek and the “Austrian School” of economic theory inform Paul’s economic policy positions, which support entirely free markets with minimal government intervention. In other words, Paul wants to take us back to pre-New Deal, and even pre-Progressive era policies. Just imagine if Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt never existed; also Google Augusto Pinochet while you’re at it.

Secondly, I think Paul’s libertarianism misses the mark. He wants to remove government to allow the “market” to work better. Here’s the problem: the market is governed by the profit motive, maximizing efficiency, and externalizing whatever it can. Voting for a libertarian candidate is giving Big Business, and its underlying values, free reign to continue their abuse of our natural resources, our well-being, and our democratic process. Government is not going to “go away,” government is what makes society, and business, possible in the first place. While it may seem attractive to weaken government, or fantasize about removing it, this simply transfers the decision-making power to corporations. Ultimately, someone will be making decisions that affect your daily life, do you want them to be accountable to the public or not?

Thirdly, the main difference between the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement is where people consider the real threat to exist. The Tea Party is misguided in thinking that Big Government is the biggest threat to their “freedom,” while the Occupy movement understands that government has been taken over by Big Business. Mitt Romney is currently campaigning on the idea that because he has business experience he is prepared to be president. What I would like Romney and Paul supporters to consider, as has been pointed out by Paul Krugman recently, is the simple truth articulated by George Lakoff in The Political Mind: “Government is fundamentally different from business. The first responsibility of a business is to make money; the first responsibility of a government is to protect and empower its citizens.”

Fourthly, President Obama has protected the American people better than George W. Bush. We have not had another terrorist attack, Osama bin Laden has been killed, and the Iraq War has come to an end. Personally, I have reservations about the Obama Administration’s expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia due to the fact that innocent civilians are often killed, but I suppose it is preferable to a U.S. occupation of the entire Middle East. Here’s my point: if you support Ron Paul for his foreign policy positions you can forget about the United States relinquishing its role in the world. We are an empire, like it or not. The fact that Obama has pursued the foreign policy that he has should be evidence enough, considering that he was an anti-war candidate, that our role in the world is somewhat beyond our control. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is more hawkish towards Iran than John McCain was in 2008. We may see military action against Iran under Obama, but you can count on it if Mitt Romney is elected president. The last thing our military families and budget deficit need is another war.

Fifthly, President Obama has sought to empower the American people by striving for universal health care. The for-profit health insurance industry, the Republicans in Congress, and the Tea Party made sure that the health care “reform” that was passed was more beneficial for profits than people. The repeal of “Obamacare,” which is so dear to the hearts of Tea Partiers, is only necessary because their opposition to health care reform resulted in a watered-down, further enrich the private interests who are the source of the problem in the first place, piece of legislation. President Obama has further attempted to empower the American people by passing financial regulatory reform, creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and wants to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire in order to bring in necessary revenue to reduce the deficit, all of which was opposed by the Republicans in Congress.

Sixthly, Mitt Romney thinks that he is qualified to be president because he knows how to manage a business. Thus, I assume he considers the United States a business; and a business tries to make as much profit as possible in any way that it can: laying off workers, not paying taxes, moving jobs overseas, ignoring ecological impacts, ignoring health impacts, regulating itself, and writing its own rules, if possible. Government exists to protect citizens from such abuses, but what happens if the president thinks the government is the very thing that government is intended to control and regulate on behalf of its citizens?

Finally, most people are familiar with the infamous tale of Mitt Romney’s dog being tied to the roof of the family car for a 12-hour trip (in a kennel). When asked about the incident on Fox News, Romney replied that the dog probably preferred being on the roof rather than inside the car. As president, will Mitt Romney assume that middle class families prefer to work longer hours than ever before without wages increasing? Will he assume that middle class families prefer to pay more for college than ever before? Will he assume that middle class families prefer to pay more for health care than ever before? Will he assume that middle class families are just “envious” of the 1% rather than concerned about the common good? Personally, I don’t want the middle class to become Mitt Romney’s dog.

Update: June 27, 2013

Arguably, it was Mitt Romney’s infamous “47%” comment that cost him the election. I would say that such comments reinforce the image of Romney portrayed in this article.

 
 
October 23, 2011

They have been called socialists, anarchists, hippies, naïve dreamers, ignorant kids, unemployed bums, and un-American.

According to occupywallst.org, the Occupy Wall Street movement “is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process” and “aims to expose how the richest 1% of people who are writing the rules of the global economy are imposing an agenda of neo-liberalism and economic inequality.” In my opinion, Occupy Wall Street sounds rather informed and deliberate. I wonder if the average American is even familiar with the term “neo-liberalism.”

Occupy Wall Street considers itself part of the 99% whose voice no longer matters because corporate influence has turned our democracy into a sham. It saddens and angers me to watch the corporate media denigrate a group of intelligent, organized, and passionate people who are trying to communicate a simple message: greed is the source of corruption; and our political process has become entirely corrupt. Yet, greed, self-indulgence, and consumerism remain the fundamental values that underpin our economy, society, and culture. 

While the participants of Occupy Wall Street are of all ages, there is no denying that most are young people in their 20s; hence, many older people dismissing them as naïve, lazy, or worse. As someone in their 20s, I would like to attempt to shed some light on why I believe people all over our country are currently participating in marches, sit-ins, non-violent demonstrations, and peaceful occupations.

Our generation does not see a society where people who work hard are rewarded. We see a society where the cruelest, most morally bankrupt version of “survival of the fittest” is the order of the day; and the “fittest” are the wealthy and the corrupt. Not only does this conflict with the spiritual values we have been taught, it conflicts with the type of society we would like to live in. We feel that we should be able to influence our society because we have also been taught that in a democracy the government ought to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Our generation sees a political system wherein both parties write and pass laws designed to enrich corporations at the expense of the common good, or the promotion of the “general Welfare.”

Our generation no longer understands what the “American Dream” is supposed to be. We see schools that only care about measurable test results, rising tuition costs that lead to debt, and a lack of meaningful work. We are told to “play the game,” but the game is increasingly rigged against us and it is no longer something we want to engage in. Our society is governed by self-interest, greed, consumerism, and exploitation, both human and environmental. Why should we perpetuate something that is bad for the environment and bad for our souls?

Our generation no longer cares about the disagreements of the Baby Boomer generation. The last 30 years have proven that de-regulation, trickle-down economics, globalization of capital, and free trade (all of which constitute neo-liberalism) are simply increasing inequality and increasing environmental destruction. We don’t care if taxing the top 1% is “class warfare,” or if universal healthcare is “socialism,” or if renewable energy is “hippie.” We want to live in a society where people, animals, and the environment are seen as intrinsically valuable, worthy of respect, and deserving of appreciation.

We believe that we can organize society to reflect our values. People in other countries have already begun to resist neo-liberalism. The only thing preventing the United States of America from being the greatest country on Earth is the fact that our leaders insist that we already are. We refuse to learn from others and resist becoming part of the global community. The American Empire exported neo-liberalism all over the globe; and the rest of the world has already experienced the destructiveness of such policies, which is why Occupy Wall Street is becoming a global movement. Its criticism is aimed not at a particular political party, but at the underlying economic and social policies of the industrialized world.

We didn’t ask for the world you gave us. The least you can do is lend us your ear, the most you can do is lend us a hand.

 
 
September 21, 2011

On September 12, the Tea Party and CNN collaborated to host a Republican debate. Our governor, Rick Perry, found himself surrounded by fellow conservatives who were more than willing to “mess with Texas.” Personally, I do not like Rick Perry’s policies or personality so I was content to watch Rep. Bachmann and Gov. Romney gang up on him.

Michele Bachmann brought up the fact that Perry received campaign contributions from the drug company that profited from his executive order mandating HPV vaccinations in Texas. Gov. Perry’s response was startling, but I feel that the significance eluded many viewers. Perry responded that if Bachmann were implying that he “can be bought for $5,000, then he is offended.” Point: Rick Perry can be bought with enough money! The question is how much money is required and which issues are for sale. Does our governor describe climate change as a hoax perpetuated by scientists who simply want to receive research money because he truly believes this to be the case, or has he been bought by the fossil fuel industry?

Perry said multiple times during the debate that politicians need to be honest with the American people; and I appreciate the governor’s honesty regarding campaign finance. All of our elected officials should be honest about how much money it takes for their votes, or conscience, to be bought. With this sort of transparency, ordinary citizens could at least have a specific dollar figure to aim for if they want to truly compete with corporations and the wealthy to influence their elected officials.

The fact is, all of our politicians can be and often are bought. This used to be “conspiracy theory” talk, but the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which states that under the First Amendment corporations, as “people,” can donate an unlimited amount of money to political campaigns, brings to the surface and legalizes the most corrupt aspect of our political system. We have a political system wherein politicians are bought and if they do not advertise their “products” (policy positions) to the sponsor’s satisfaction, then they are attacked by negative ad campaigns paid for with the same corporate money that put them in office.

The Tea Party is opposed to “big government” and “regulation,” but the corporations already write, propose, and pass pro-corporate and pro-rich legislation at the expense of ordinary, middle-class Americans. The profit motive is what drives the private sector. Ideas of “choice” and “competition” are trumpeted like the Good News. However, there are certain services that should not be driven by the profit motive. The function of government is certainly to create an environment where business can flourish, but the government also exists to protect and empower citizens. This function, the protection and empowerment of citizens, is driven by the people motive rather than the profit motive. I fear that the Tea Party wants to shrink government to the point that protection and empowerment only exist for corporations and the rich.

What would our country be like if everything was governed by the profit motive? Well, as many children who currently have no health care would also receive no education. Our food would not be inspected, our drugs would not be tested, and our water and air would not be protected. The poor and the elderly would not be helped. A country governed entirely by the profit motive would be a country without any morality, compassion, empathy, or sense of interconnectedness. A country governed entirely by the profit motive would be a country that turned away from God. Our politicians have chosen to become puppets. We still have a choice. We have the numbers; all we lack is the will.