Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wow! and Thanks!

So as you may know it has been nearly 3 years since my last blog post.  I sort of got discouraged when I felt like these posts were getting no where.  Then I looked at my statistics an saw I had over 400K page views today since I intended to launch a new post to tie to my Facebook Site at: Steve Owens For Better Government and all I have to say is WOW, and thank you for your interest.

Just in case you were wondering, NO I am not currently running for any political office.  But I am dedicated to influencing those who are, to raise the bar in our political leadership; a bar that I am sure everyone will agree is desperately in need of raising.

I recently received a request from Ed Barton who is running for State Senate in Washington State for a campaign donation.  I asked him what sets him apart from his opponent and to his credit he responded.

Well, for one, my opponent is a 24 year incumbent Democrat who has a 100% voting record of never opposing the WEA.  I am in favor of school choice, less government, and holding government accountable for outcomes, not just inputs. I opppse the 405 toll road, my opponent voted for it. I believe in keeping spending low and government out of personal lives.

Now I didn't give him any money but I did offer the following titbits of advice on how to change my mind on that topic and actually get my support.

You know, I used to be a Republican.  And your response was honest.  Here is a little feedback.  Less government is not the problem, but if you really want less government then start by slashing budgets for our military.  Stop funding roads and cut the number of police in half.  End the war on drugs.  As you can see less government is a very myopic agenda.  Unless you support any of what I just suggested.  It isn't that we need less government, it is that we need a government that is under the control and direction of the people and not under the control and direction of special interests.  I will refrain from funding you until you get a better clue.  Come back to me if you can present a better argument for why you should receive my support.

... I mean what I say about coming to me if you have a better platform.  Right now, however you are just echoing tired and outmoded RNC diatribes.  I am only interested in leaders who are willing to change the status quo and knock the pendulum over rather than simply trying to get it swiging the other way.

And in case you are drawing a blank on how to do that, you may want to look to successful companies like Google, AliBaba, and Paypal, on how to meet customer needs and maintain good will.  Government (in theory at least) is the one Corporation in which we are all voting shareholders.  Right now it is wasteful and unaccountable to those shareholders.  The typical shareholder (voter) has no visibility into what management is up to, and consequently our stock is dropping.
I sincerely hope he will take it to heart.   Who knows, perhaps he will gain my support in the end, but quite frankly, I am perfectly content to watch a Democratic incumbent melt down the public trust just as he has been doing for 24 years now.  Makes no difference to me quite frankly, since neither of our two major parties has any actual interest in actually improving government.  So the rest of this blog will be dedicated to briefly exploring the current dysfunction in our political process.

On the one side, we have the Republican party who sold it's soul in the late 1960's in order to win the Southern Democrat (Christian Conservative) vote.  Where formerly the Republican party had occupied by Libertarian minded business people who valued a free market and limited government, that focus shifted to one where public services for working class folks were cut, and taxes were raised to feed into a burgeoning Military Industrial Complex.  The Republicans had lost their way, and now rather than shrinking government they set about to actually expand government to a behemoth geared entirely toward crushing the rights of both the American Citizen (Patriot Act) and the people of the rest of the world. Pick any country filled with brown people and quite likely we have bombed or shot at them.

On the other side, we have the Democratic party, who sold it's soul in the late 1960's to win the support of big business, the military industrial complex, "workers" unions, environmental special interests, big pharmaceutical companies, AIG, and other sundry elements of the health insurance mafia and anyone else who would contribute to their burgeoning campaign coffers.  In order to satisfy such a diverse set of supporters they had to make some hard decisions. So they decided to only support the people who give them lots of money, and simply lie to everyone else.  In order to protect this lie, they established the machinery of censorship.  To this day anyone who expresses any sort of dissatisfaction with the way the Democrats do business is simply silenced by whatever means are necessary.

In public Republicans and Democrats are at each other's throats, but in reality this is more like professional "wrestling".  The arguments are merely there to serve as a slight of hand while each party conspires with the other to shut out any real competition, while simultaneously ensuring golden parachutes for the people who play this game at the expense of the American people.

To put it succinctly, the current political process dominated by two corrupt parties, and ignored by an increasingly ignorant public has become cancerous.  We do not expect cancer to cure itself nor should we expect the players in the current process to cure themselves.  The best we can hope for as a people is to become less ignorant, in spite of all of the barriers that our government and the PR industry put in place to keep us in the dark, and to be hyper critical of each and every person who would set themselves up as our representative.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Types of Vision

I want to prefix this blog posting by saying that it may be a little rich in metaphors.
If you feel that they are overdone, I would like to apologize in advance.  But I wanted to
take a few moments to jot down some thoughts on vision.  Now by vision I mean the process
by which people or organizations develop a long term strategy for fulfilling their mission. I
am going to label these two flavors of vision Herd Vision and Leader Vision.

Consider for a moment how most herd animals operate.  Their mission is simple; they want to find food and water and avoid being eaten by predators.  Now in order to find food and water they must move about the landscape from opportunity to opportunity avoiding predators along the way.  So what do most of the herd animals do?  They stare at the rump in front of their face and follow it.  Wherever it goes, they go.  I call this Herd Vision.

This strategy works most of the time especially when the rump at the head of the herd belongs to a good leader who is not heading straight for a cliff.  Now the leader of the herd uses a different kind of vision.  For the leader there is no rump.  Or put another way the rump they stare at is the blue sky at the horizon.  Actually, to be successful, they also have to be alert to all the points in between. The leader is using what I call Leader Vision.

Now lets examine how this translates to the political process.  Consider the candidate who wins an election by effectively leveraging social media for the first time in an election and manages to totally crush his opponent.  This candidate is using Leader Vision, or at least had the good sense to go along with someone who actually had Leader Vision. 

Yes, I am talking about Obama.  I may not like much of what he has done since he got into office but I can't help but respect the way that he got there ahead of so many of the members of his party who had seniority.  He may be a horrible representative of our nation's best interests, but he is a damn fine politician none the less.

Now consider what we are seeing 5 or so years, and one term later.  We have Republicans saying "boy, we need to learn from Obama and adopt the same strategies."...Ya think?!!  But what are they really doing except sticking their noses in close proximity to Obama's rump and simply plodding along?  In other words, the Republican decision makers are using Herd Vision.  Which as I said before is perfectly fine as long as the rump they want us to follow is not leading us over a cliff.

Here is a clue, if you want to want to be the leader you can't do it by simply following the leader.  You need to take your eyes off the rump in front of you, put your eyes on the horizon,  pick a new direction and then start walking.  As soon as you do this with confidence and certainty then some of the herd will follow you, because it is instinctive to do so. Does this act in and of itself make you a leader?  No, but it starts the process.

If you are able to find food and water, and avoid predators while you travel in your new direction, then over time your tiny herd will grow.  Eventually if you manage to do this for long enough you will end up with a large herd and then you will be The Leader.

Most leaders practice what I term as Ordinary leadership.   In ordinary leadership, you have someone who was a good follower at one point in the past.  They followed the leader but had the good sense to take their eyes off the rump in front of them long enough to look around them and see where they were being led.  Eventually these leaders learn the routes and paths that their leader have been leading themselves so well that when the leader becomes to old to lead, they are able to take over and lead the heard around the same trails as they had been following for many seasons.

Ordinary leadership works very well, in circumstances where the landscape remains unchanged.  The watering holes are in predictable places, the wolf packs roam the same territories, and the grazing fields have not all been burned up or dried out from drought.  However, ordinary leadership does not work in a changing landscape. 

Contrast this with Visionary Leadership.  Visionary leaders typically don't follow the herd very well.  They are imbued with a sense of originality that inexorably drives them to seek out new paths and routes.  A successful Visionary Leader is able to actually navigate a changing landscape and even thrive in it.  Why? Because they are able to find new watering holes when the old ones have dried up.  They are able to perceive new threats and dangers to their herd even in unfamiliar territory.

If you are not a leader but want to know which leader you should follow then you can apply the following heuristic to solve your dilemma.  If times are not changing and the climate is stable from season to season then you are better off following an Ordinary Leader because they are most likely to follow the tried and true paths which have shown themselves to be beneficial to the herd.  On the other hand if things are unstable and the climate is changing then you had better start looking for a Visionary leader, or one day you and the herd you run with will be nothing but bleached bones in a parched dessert.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Everybody Needs Health Care

Personally, I don't think that Insurance is the right model for handling health care costs anyhow, so I am to some extent in agreement with my Democrat leaning partner (and love of my life) about paying taxes and having health care provided via the government like in Canada. Insurance only works when managing low risk events across a population which is largely unlikely to ever experience the event but the event is so catastrophic that for those few who do experience the event the costs would be devastating.
Health care is something everyone needs and therefore does not fit within any feasible actuarial model. What happens instead is that everyone pays higher costs because 1) they are inflated by health care administrative costs associated with filing claims. and 2) because health care insurance obfuscates the true cost of health care which allows for all sorts of opportunism and 3) shifting the burden of payment on to those who did not incur the costs.
Depending on what segment of the population you are talking about people who don't have health insurance frequently pay 3 times as much for health care (self-pay) as people who have insurance or Medicare, so if you are talking about employed uninsured, they help lower your insurance costs rather than raising them. Only people who lack income actually get away with not paying for health care, and interestingly enough they also get away with any sort of punitive tax under Obamacare for not having health insurance.
“In the 1950s, the uninsured and poor were charged the lowest prices for medical service. Today they pay the highest prices, often two to three times more than what a person with health insurance would pay for hospital care,” said [Gerald F.] Anderson, a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health."
Another Reuters article: Uninsured pay $30 billion for health care: study states that uninsured paid 30 billion in out of pocket expenses in 2008, and got 56 billion in free health care. Like most articles intended to push a particular agenda, this article (and perhaps the study it refers to) lumps two demographically dissimilar populations together to lend credibility to incredulous assertions.
The fact of the matter is that if a person has means and they are uninsured, they pay a dear price for health care as a self-pay. The real motive behind the misleading Reuters article is potentially revealed however, in one of the articles quotations:
"If these people were better covered, they would spend more on health care, the researchers predicted."
Here is an article by Allie Shultz that discusses what may be the true source of our problem A Private Health Care Monopoly?. The fact that the Health Care industry donated 20 million to Obama's 2008 election (3 times what they donated to McCains campaign), is rather telling about what really sits behind all of this chicanery. And the fact that Obama won the 2008 election largely due to public sentiment about the current state of health care is rather telling about how far out of touch neo-conservative Republicans like McCain and that guy who lost the 2012 Presidential Election are with their party roots.

In her article she opens by saying that:
"Health care agencies are falsely assumed to be part of the free-market when in fact, they lack the defining factors of such. 
Managed Care Organizations drive the state of health care, decide who, when, and where care should be provided and encourage doctors to make decisions that they would not normally make. These organizations, mostly insurance companies, run the system and make choices that are not always best for the buyer, but best for themselves – the opposite of true free market businesses."
While I agree with her premise, I do not feel that she effectively argues her point as well as she might have.  For example she states that "The Supreme Court actually gives all physicians and health care workers an exemption from the anti-trust laws."  And she links this statement to a statement by Joel I Klien before the House Judiciary Committee on HR 1304.  Yet in Mr. Klien's testimony he states that:
"[The Bill] would uniquely authorize health care professionals who are not employed by health insurance plans, and thus not exempt from antitrust scrutiny under existing law, to negotiate collectively with any health plan over fees and collectively to refuse to deal with any plan that did not accede to their demands. Current law already provides an exemption from the antitrust laws for doctors and other health care professionals in an employeeemployer context."
"However, since the bill which levels the playing field for all health care professionals not just ones who are part of a union when it comes to negotiating terms with insurance companies became law in 2000, I suppose that her statement is 100% accurate even if, on the surface, her choice of references might lead you to think she is smoking crack.  If you look at the House Vote in 2000. You can see that a majority of Republicans voted in favor of this bill and an even greater majority of Democrats also voted in favor of this bill.  I mean who can argue against the leveling of the playing field for all health care professionals, right?  

In his website "The True Cost of Health Care", Dr. David Belk (MD) eloquently states that: 

My goal for this website was to try to understand a system that has an enormous financial impact on everyone, but makes almost no sense to anyone. It's a system with hidden costs, enormous mark ups to discourage direct payment and a labyrinth of billing and reimbursement schedules that almost guarantee that no person directly involved could ever understand it. And we've started to see why this system is set up this way, who benefits from it, and who loses. The question is: How did it get this way?
I've only been in practice for about a decade and the system, as it is, began evolving long before my medical career began. Still, I can only guess that decades ago when insurance companies started to pay for medical costs, no one intended for it to end up like this.

Although personally, I would prefer to pay taxes and have government provided health care over the health insurance driven monopoly we have today. What I would prefer even more is to see is a reversal of the Supreme Court ruling that Health care is exempt from anti-trust laws and measures passed that guarantee a true free market solution to the health care crisis. To Obama's credit one thing he did do recently was release information that heretofore was a carefully guarded secret by the health care monopoly by ordering the creation of the In Patient Prospective Payment System.  Transparency in pricing is the first step toward a free market.

Hopefully someday a critical mass of my fellow Republicans will stop behaving like robots, stop listening to the neo-conservative lies and get a clue that health insurance does not equal a free market but it does promote the monopoly.  FYI, monopolies are something true conservative Republicans are opposed to as evidenced by the Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890. In case you aren't up on your history Senator Sherman was the Ohio Republican who introduced this landmark piece of legislation which passed unanimously in the House 246-0.  When the Republican party finally casts it's neo-conservative overlords adrift in the sea of rebuff, maybe then people will finally get "change you can believe in".

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ideology, Reality, and Damn Lies

So recently I got very spun up about the buzz surrounding the purchase of large numbers of "Tanks" by the Obama administration for Homeland Security:

However I love the fact that I have a level headed and skeptical partner in life.  When she finally decided to turn her attention to the matter of refuting these claims she quickly identified credible sources of information which show that this is a false and sensationalistic claim:

As it turns out Homeland Security only has 16 Light Armored Vehicles (a.k.a Tanks by some).  The purported purpose of these "Tanks" is to be used to serve high risk warrants.  On the website that credibly refutes the false claims made by the pundit site I found the following comment by Radley Blacko:
"We see again and again that the more military equipment local law enforcement gets its hands on, the more they feel the need to justify it by using it. That is why you have SWAT raids for MJ dealers, flashbang grenades used in house where little kids are sleeping, M16’s in the hands of police officers for simple warrant servicing, and tanks (or armored vehicles) used to knock over shacks where suspected undocumented workers are hiding (See Arpairo, Joe).
“These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
At the very core of all sensible arguments against gun control are the principles that the ultimate purpose of ensuring that citizens keep the right to bear arms are the lessons that were fresh in the minds of the drafters of the constitution learned in England under British tyranny.

As Supreme Court Justice Scalia, writing for the Court in Heller : "In Nunn v. State, 1 Ga. 243, 251 (1846) put it:
"... The right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, not such merely as are used by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State. Our opinion is, that any law, State or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void, which contravenes this right, originally belonging to our forefathers, trampled under foot by Charles I. and his two wicked sons and successors, reestablished by the revolution of 1688, conveyed to this land of liberty by the colonists, and finally incorporated conspicuously in our own Magna Charta! And Lexington, Concord, Camden, River Raisin, Sandusky, and the laurel-crowned field of New Orleans, plead eloquently for this interpretation!..."
The argument over whether or not individual citizens should retain the right to bear arms was not something that was really even on the radar at the time the Constitution was written.  It was simply taken as a given that every peaceable, law abiding citizen should have the right to bear arms.  Even the Federalists such as Daniel Webster who argued in favor or strong Federal powers and a strong federal Standing Army predicated those arguments on the assumption that the armed force of the American people would always be enough to deter tyranny within this country.  In Websters own words:
"Before a standing army can rule the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States"
Similarly James Madison who was also a Federalist and who did not believe that our Constitution needed a bill of rights because to enumerate a set of rights might imply that there were no other rights justified a strong federal government and standing army on the premise that the federal army would never be able to defeat the armed citizenry themselves.  In the Federalist Number 46 he writes:
"Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it."
His theory that it was safe to have a standing federal army was based on the assumption that the citizens would not be disarmed, and that they would out number the army 25 to 1 and be well trained in the use of arms and the skills of warfare.

It is most unlikely that he ever conceived of weapons of mass destruction, tanks, F-16 fighters, high altitude bombers and a whole plethora of other machines of death used by our modern military.  We are fast approaching the point where a military take over of the United States is quite feasible in spite of the current number of guns distributed among the people.  They are of such inferior quality that were they to be employed against our own troops they would be largely ineffective.  So the important check against tyranny that the 2nd amendment was intended to provide is already almost extinct.

This is the primary reason that groups such as the 2nd Amendment Foundation fight so hard to preserve the right of individual citizens to have assault weapons and large capacity magazines.  They understand that our current standing army represents the most formidable military force ever seen and thus represents a risk to the Republic that it was established to defend were it ever possible to pervert it's use.

Now we turn our attention to the school shootings that periodically inflame the public discourse and rally the Anti Gun crowd to further disarm the American people.  The term well regulated militia as used by the framers of the constitution did not mean a standing army.  It meant an army of the citizens who brought their own weapons to the field to provide for the common defense.
On May 8, 1792, Congress passed "[a]n act more effectually to provide for the National Defence, by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States" which read:
"[E]ach and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia...[and] every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear, so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack."
The militia was not considered to be a random pack of armed miscreants who should properly be locked up in an insane asylum.  They were trained organized citizen solders.

 However as Alexander Hamilton points out in the Federalist 29:
"The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious, if it were capable of being carried into execution. A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss."

It was largely due to arguments by Hamilton and others on the side of the Federalist movement that a standing army was raised and placed under the authority of the Federal government. Again, the purpose of the standing army was to put down rebellion within the states under the logic that the individual states might not have the resources to quash their own rebellions if they had to rely solely upon their own militias.  But Mr. Hamilton also goes on to say that:
"But though the scheme of disciplining the whole nation must be abandoned as mischievous or impracticable; yet it is a matter of the utmost importance that a well-digested plan should, as soon as possible, be adopted for the proper establishment of the militia. The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate extent, upon such principles as will really fit them for service in case of need. By thus circumscribing the plan, it will be possible to have an excellent body of well-trained militia, ready to take the field whenever the defense of the State shall require it. This will not only lessen the call for military establishments, but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist."
The above quote was an attempt by Mr Hamilton to show the alternative to his plan to institute a standing army under the Federal Government.  He goes on to say:
"There is something so far-fetched and so extravagant in the idea of danger to liberty from the militia, that one is at a loss whether to treat it with gravity or with raillery; whether to consider it as a mere trial of skill, like the paradoxes of rhetoricians; as a disingenuous artifice to instil prejudices at any price; or as the serious offspring of political fanaticism. Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests? What reasonable cause of apprehension can be inferred from a power in the Union to prescribe regulations for the militia, and to command its services when necessary, while the particular States are to have the SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS?"
While at the time his arguments in favor of a standing army were rooted in sound logic.  I would like to point out the last sentence marked in red in the above quote.  Note that the whole argument that Hamilton makes against the fear that our own army could be used as a tool of oppression over the American people lies largely upon the foundation of the above quote.  However since he wrote this paper much has changed in the legal landscape.  As 10 USC § 531 - Original appointments of commissioned officers states:
(1) Original appointments in the grades of second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain in the Regular Army, Regular Air Force, and Regular Marine Corps and in the grades of ensign, lieutenant (junior grade), and lieutenant in the Regular Navy shall be made by the President alone.
(2) Original appointments in the grades of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel in the Regular Army, Regular Air Force, and Regular Marine Corps and in the grades of lieutenant commander, commander, and captain in the Regular Navy shall be made by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Thus Hamilton's assumption that the States have the power to appoint the officers of the military is now a fallacy. The only point that remains that lends any weight at all to his argument that we need not fear a standing army is the part that reads "Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits and interests?"

Yet it doesn't take any great intelligence to see that these days the people who are members of the Military are largely kept separate from the people that they are supposed to defend.  Both by removing them to remote locations, isolating them in military housing and through psychological means by socializing them into a military sub culture that has it's own language, and customs.  A culture in which there are servicemen and then there are civilians.  If you actually get to know members of the military you will quickly discover that many of them hold "civilians" in low regard.

Thus it is obvious that the soundness of Hamilton's argument that there will be natural safeguards that ensure the standing army would never be used against the American people fails as a consequence of the slow erosion of the safeguards against tyranny that the system was supposed to provide.  Thus we have instead a very dangerous situation indeed.  A situation whereby it becomes conceivable that a small set of oligarchs could pervert the use of the military and use it to oppress the people of the United States.

So on the one hand I do not want to see crazies rampaging through our public schools and our streets shooting innocent people at random.  I also do not want to see this country fall to Fascism or any other form of tyranny.  I feel as though too many people have lost their vigilance and that they have breathed the soma of indolence.

As Patrick Henry argued in the Virginia ratification convention on June 5, 1788, for the dual rights to arms and resistance to oppression:
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trains, Tanks and Mommies

I ride the Sounder and I am a Republican.  For those readers who have any understanding about how the Sounder is funded you would take that first sentence and see the ironic conflict therein.  I love riding the Sounder and I hate driving up to Seattle.  Living only 30 miles from Seattle, a morning drive in takes around 80 minutes.  Contrast this with the commute I used to make on the East Coast where a 45 mile commute took 44 minutes, it is obvious why I prefer to ride the train.  It only takes 45 minutes. 

I just had a conversation this morning and the topic of the conversation was the fact that gas just jumped 30 cents in the last couple of days.  This means that an 80 minute commute would cost me around 5-6 dollars one way by car, yet on the train I pay nothing.  My employer picks up the tab.  Or part of it at least.  The other part of the tab is paid for by people such as myself who register their vehicles in Counties where the Sounder runs.  Rather than $45 for a new set of tags like my friends in Olympia pay, I pay around $80.  But averaged out, I am making out pretty good.  I don't know how much the train would cost if I had to pay the full fare (un-assisted by tax dollars) but I have heard some people say it would be around $9.  So for me it works.

Nevertheless, I still feel a little guilty.  But I don't want to give up riding the train.  Now let's overlay the conflict of ideologies that our two major parties adhere to.  The Democrat ideology is that government can never be big enough.  There is no problem that big government cannot solve, and no rule too intrusive to one's personal life so long as those rules do not intrude into the domain of sexuality or personal interaction.  We don't need the freedom to move about or make our own decisions because people usually make very bad decisions so we should all listen to what our government tells us because it is better than us, and has a rightful place of dominion in our lives.  We don't need to monitor or evaluate the effectiveness of our government's decisions we simply need to trust our government will always do the right thing (except when the Republicans are in charge).

The Republican response is that government is made up of people who have been entrusted with power by the people at large.  Since government is made up of people it's institutions are at least as fallible as any other set of institutions.  Some individuals make bad decisions and some individuals make good decisions.  The people who make good decisions should not be punished by yielding control to a fallible government but should be free to continue to make those good decisions.  People who make bad decisions will never learn to make good ones if they do not have to face the consequences of their bad decisions.  Having government step in at every turn is like having an over protective mother.  How can people self actualize in a civilization dominated by a mommy government?

The conflict seems to mirror the conflict that healthy couples experience when rearing children.  It is no small wonder that females tend to gravitate toward the Democratic party while males tend to gravitate toward the Republican party.  Interestingly enough, as men progress in their own personal emotional development they often find themselves leaning Democrat as they get older, and women who progress in their own personal emotional development tend to find themselves leaning more Republican.  The Democratic party represents a feminine attitude and the Republican party represents a masculine attitude.  Yet we know that well balanced healthy children are usually the product of a healthy balance between these two perspectives.

Now before I carry that analogy too far, I would like to point out that while most people in our society today tend to think of our government as a parent who is supposed to bail us out of trouble whenever times get tough, there is one very fundamental difference between the Parent-Child relationship and the Government-Citizen relationship.  In the Parent-Child relationship the interests of the child are paramount.  Parental authority is not yielded by social contract to the parent but rather it is a function of the fact that the child was brought in to the world in a state of helplessness and the parent's took it upon themselves to raise that child up to be an independent individual.  The parent has control regardless of whether or not the child agrees with the arrangement or not.

However, the Parent-Child relationship is not supposed to be a cradle to grave relationship at least not in so far as the child continues to cede control to the parent even after reaching a state of adulthood.  It is the parent's duty to foster a state of independence in the child wherein the child is entrusted with increasing levels of autonomy until they reach full adulthood and strike out on their own.

This is in contrast with the relationship between Government and Citizen.  The Citizen yields their power to the Government in exchange for the benefits of cooperation that a well ordered society can provide.  The Government is granted the power by the collective will of the Citizenry and it is a relationship that is intended to last not only from cradle to grave but continues down the blood lines to the children, grand children and so on.  It is a very dangerous thing to confuse the Parent-Child relationship and the Government-Citizen relationship, in spite of the many parallels that may be drawn.  The devil is always in the details.

Any Government which fosters a state of helplessness and dependence within it's citizenry, will not long stand.  Unless the government is a monarchy, or a dictatorship composed of elites and serfs, the government will be run by the citizens.  Citizens who are incapable of acting independently as adults will make poor surrogate parents for the other citizens.  The whole affair would be very much like a very bad version of Lord of the Flies.

It is well known, by most of us at least, that the interests of the citizen are not paramount in the Government-Citizen relationship anymore. The interests of the government now trump the interests of the individual citizen.  Why else would homeland security be purchasing tanks in order to make war upon it's own citizens?

You may ask yourself, how did I jump from riding the train to homeland security buying tanks?  It is simple.  The rider/train relationship represents a healthy relationship between citizen and government where as the tank-driver/bullet-catcher relationship does not.  One may argue that the re-distribution of wealth that takes place because my ride to work is funded largely by the fees paid by drivers who must travel the unfinished corridors between Tacoma and Seattle by car while I ride in comfort and type this blog.  Honestly, I cannot argue against the unfairness of that in spite of the fact that I am personally a beneficiary of that particular unfairness.

But homeland security buying tanks to make war upon the citizens of the United States, is a different matter altogether.  It represents a dysfunctional relationship between Citizen and Government in which the government's only interest is preserving it's own continuity at the cost of the lives and inalienable rights of it's citizens.  This is, at best an abusive relationship.  I can personally think of no circumstance in which such an act would be justified.

The key difference of course is that if I want to I can choose not to ride the Sounder should my conscience ever get the better of me.  Or, I can work to get funding to complete the unfinished highway projects that would ensure growth and opportunity for the Port of Tacoma, as well as the industrial centers in Sumner and Auburn.  But what I cannot choose to do is get up and walk around after some tank driving homeland security psychopath has cut me in half with a 50 Cal.  Again, the devil is in the details.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fixing a Broken Govenment

In the opening lines of "To Reverse America’s Decline, We Have to Fix Congress’s Dysfunctional Incentives" by the Center for Collaborative Democracy, we read:

"The U.S. Congress has put America on the road to decline. Both Republican and Demo- cratic lawmakers encouraged U.S. financial institutions to employ the high-risk practices that have hobbled our economy. Both parties let our country become addicted to foreign oil, thus undermining our security while enriching nations intent on harming us. Both parties allowed our school children to be- come among the most poorly educated in the developed world. Both parties saddled our country with $100 trillion in Social Security and Medicare obligations that we cannot pos- sibly meet."
The reason I became a member of the Republican Party was because I believe in smaller government, lower taxes and freedom. I also believe in social responsibility, respect for the environment and a reasonable safety net for the people.  While I tend to lean Libertarian in most things I understand that right or wrong the reality of the situation as it is today is that we are a two party system.  If you want to make a difference you pick a party and try to not get swallowed up by the rhetoric.

That said, I have seen little evidence that either party has been able to deliver on any of the basic things that nearly every common person, liberal or conservative, expects from their government. Year over year we see our privacy invaded, our freedoms curtailed, and our taxes go up and nothing is done to help alleviate the mess we as ordinary people find ourselves in when it comes to planning for retirement, trying to educate our children, or getting basic health care without going into bankruptcy. It doesn't seem to matter who is in power. How can it be that in spite of our best efforts as voters we never seem to get what we want when it comes to our elected representatives?

Of course the hard line retort is well you deserve what you got after all you voted for them. This retort inspires many people to tune out of politics and stay away from the polls altogether and who can blame them? Would you continue to frequent a restaurant if the waiter consistently brought everything on the menu except the thing you asked for? I think that most Republicans understand that nothing good can come from Government and I agree with that perspective given our present circumstances.  Government is broken, let us try our best to limit the damage it can do.

But looking beyond that, what are we to do?  Anarchists believe that the best way is for no government at all to exist and to let people work things out for themselves.  However, most of us firmly believe that we need some sort of agency to protect our common interests and to prevent one person or group from trampling the interests of everyone else or there would be total chaos.  Or to put it another way we need to have some entity that will provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare (sound familiar).  Even Libertarians agree that we need to have some agency which will prevent one person or group from exercising force or deception upon other persons or groups.

I would assert that if our system of government were not broken then there would be less need to work so hard to limit it.  On the contrary if it were not broken it would limit itself because for government to grow beyond the means of the people it would have to fail to meet one of it's two primary objectives; to promote the general welfare.  Instead government would seek to find the most efficient means possible to promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense.  It would tread lightly upon the backs of the people.  Our current system does none of those things.

What about the other objective? To provide for the common defense.  What does it mean to provide for the common defense?  As individuals most of us understand that when you throw your weight around, speak in aggressive tones, and make unnecessary shows of force that you may intimidate some people for a time, but in the long run you create more trouble for yourself than you can ever hope to avoid.  Trouble follows trouble and when you adopt a strategy of projecting power, you will inevitably cause trouble.  And so, you must pour an ever increasing amount of resources into being able to back up your bluster with violence.  You also encourage those around you to grow stronger and more violent in the process.  This is a self defeating and extremely expensive strategy.

Before World War II most Americans adhered to a philosophy of isolationism.  They believed that we should avoid unnecessary entanglements.  In those days we had a solid industrial base, some of the best health care and education the world has ever seen and we had a thriving middle class filled with upwardly mobile people. We hadn't seen and attack upon our own soil by a foreign power since 1812.

Since World War II we have become the worlds police.  Our educational system has declined to roughly 22nd place, our medical system while very high tech and very good for wealthy foreigners, simply fails to meet the basic needs of the people.  Our middle class is virtually extinct and even the rich are looking to buy property in South America in order to have a safe place to go when the final vestiges of our society finally crumbles into dust.  When we travel we are treated like common criminals at the Airport where even a tube of toothpaste, or a pair of nail clippers is considered contraband if it is an ounce too large.  What do you suppose our great great great grandfathers would have to say about a trip through Airport security in the present age given that they probably rode a train out west with a side arm strapped to their hip. 

Yes, I believe we need a strong defense but I completely disagree with the mentality that says that the best defense is a good offense.  We need to make smarter choices in the way we spend our military dollars and we can no longer afford to project our power across the globe.  The incestuous relationship between defense contractors and our elected officials must be brought to an end or there will be no United States of America for our grand children to enjoy.

In keeping with the theme of avoiding unnecessary entanglements I also believe that we must not sacrifice the sovereignty of our nation.  Far too many people have bled and died to protect the Constitution and our system of government.  We know that the larger government gets the less in tune with individual concerns it seems to be.  In a bygone day, States were left to their own devices in most things, and the Federal government was small and by today's standards very limited in scope.  People were better represented.  How much worse will things be when we are subject to a single system of government that encompasses the globe?  We need to stand strong against this globalist mentality because it is taking us in the wrong direction.

We have quite a mess to clean up and we need to find better ways to elect people who truly represent our interests.  We need to understand and address the factors that cause most people to develop an attitude of apathy toward politics.  Blaming them for being lazy is not productive.  This apathy doesn't stem from an inherent worthlessness of the individual.  Rather, it stems (in nearly all cases) from a cycle of negative re-enforcement.  If you vote for people and the people you vote for continue to disappoint, when do you decide that voting is a waste of time?  This threshold is different for different people but it exists for everyone.  Above all else, we need representation that works.