Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thomas Wills Interview, Part 2: The Three Gs

You are currently a bachelor...

(laughing) Always have been.

Right. Are you worried you might alienate voters who feel that you are not properly committed to family values?

Wait. You look at all the governors, senators, representatives, and presidents who have had extra-marital affairs, and you're wondering if I am not committed to family values? Just because I'm a bachelor?

Well, I'm not. But there are people who would criticize...

Let them. I'm not going to pander off my concept of family just to silence critics. I'll get married when I am damn well ready and not a moment before.

That's a pretty strong reaction to a simple question.

(Chuckles) You're right. I just don't like people who wave the “Family Values” banner around. What does that even mean?

Family values?

Yeah. It obviously means different things to different people, so any group that claims to have the “proper” grasp of family values is intolerant. I'm okay with not being supported by intolerant people.

Speaking of tolerance, how do you feel about issue of gay marriage?

The whole issue? That's a lot to talk about. Let's start with the fact that I strongly oppose any amendment to the Constitution which would define marriage as existing solely between a man and a woman, for a variety of reasons.
First, and foremost, it would be discrimination. One aspect of the Constitution is to ensure that all citizens of the United States are treated equally and fairly. Look at the XIV Amendment and its application to due process, such as in Brown v. The Board of Education. In the interest of fairness and equality, marriage should not be denied to any couple consisting of two consenting adults.
This is the legality of marriage I'm talking about here. I recognize there are many churches across the nation which believe that God only blesses a union between a man and a woman. Well, the United States does not expect any person—regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation—to convert to any religion against their will or belief, so the United States should also not expect any person—regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation—to follow any tenet of a religion they are not a part of. The United States should not be concerned with the legislation of the spiritual or religious definition of marriage, only the legal one.

You can hem and haw and wiggle all you want, but it boils down to this: If you want to deny any right or privilege to one group but allow it to all the rest, it is discrimination, plain and simple. And discrimination has no business appearing in our Constitution.

Would you support a proposal to legalize gay marriage?

Of course I would.

You want to know what I think is sad? There are four different amendments to the constitution concerning voting. The Fifteenth deals with race, the Nineteenth deals with sex, and the Twenty-sixth deals with age. The Twenty-fourth dealt with race again. Four amendments! It took four to make sure that every adult in the nation was able to use their voice as a citizen and vote. Four amendments to make sure each state recognized the equality of every adult as a valuable voting voice. Essentially it took four amendments to make sure every state behaved like they were supposed to.
The Ninth and Tenth Amendments allow the States to determine the legality of everything not covered in the Constitution. Wouldn't it be great if the States decided not to discriminate on their own, that it did not require a federal amendment to the Constitution to ensure the fair treatment of individuals in the States?

So, yes, while I would support an amendment legalizing gay marriage, I would very much prefer not having to, and that the States would do their part without the federal government shaking a legal stick at them to keep them in line.

I guess that answers my question concerning the separation of church and state.

Is there a question? Was there ever? The United States is a democratic Republic, not a theocracy. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar's, render to God that which is God's.” God's laws for the people living on earth concern spiritual growth and relate almost entirely to mercy. Man's laws concern themselves more with justice. The natural difference between the two is fairly clear, so it's strange to me that people would like to use God's laws to determine legality and justice.

What's your take on the Second Amendment?

The big debate was always between personal ownership of arms (which nearly everyone takes to mean guns) and the use of arms by state militia. The debate is always portrayed as an either/or situation.

And it's not?

I'd say that rarely is a political issue completely black or white.

Concerning gun control, I think stringent classification system is useful: guns used in sport, guns used in self-defense, and guns used for assault. I realize that not everyone views hunting as very sporting, and that debate is its own entity entirely. People have the right, I believe, to use guns in sporting manner, and I also believe people have the right to own a gun for the purpose of self-defense. I believe that just as a citizen needs a license demonstrating their ability to safely operate an automobile, citizens should need a license demonstrating their ability to safely load, clean, and operate their firearms. I think it is the responsibility of the city or state to monitor, not regulate, the amount and type of ammunition being bought and sold. I'm sure that none of this seems controversial or unreasonable at this point.
Where people run into trouble is the debate over the third category of guns: those used for assault. These guns have one purpose and one purpose only, to kill people and kill them quickly. Why any American citizen would
want to own one of these weapons is disturbing enough. There is nothing sporting about assault weapons, they are of hardly any use at all in self-defense. But, I'll admit, these weapons do have their uses. These guns are useful in situations where the opposition might be using similar weaponry. It would be these guns, then, that belong under the control of S.W.A.T. Teams, the National Guard, and any other State Militia type groups. Their use should be stringently controlled and monitored, so that only members of these groups have the legal authority to shoot them. Note that I said shoot and not own. These weapons should be the property of the city and/or state and only used in situations that threaten the security and safety of the city and/or state.

So how would you respond to the allegation that prohibiting the ownership of assault weapons is a violation of the 2nd Amendment?

Given that there is no stringent list of weapons that fall under the jurisdiction of the Second Amendment, are we then to assume that the amendment applies to all weapons? Because you have to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise it's possible to make an argument for the ownership of rocket launchers, tanks, napalm...Hell, if there isn't a line drawn, couldn't you make an argument for the personal ownership of a nuclear weapon?
My response is that if you
do have to draw the line somewhere (and I'm sure we all agree that a line is necessary) I believe citizens have no business owning weapons whose sole purpose is the killing of other human beings. Let the city and state hold ownership of those weapons (if the state chooses to), and decide how and in what situations those weapons should be used.

And if someone presents an argument that assault weapons could be used for something other than killing people?

Like what?

Look, I'd love to fly a plane. But the only way I'm going be allowed to do that legally is if I'm a pilot. If people want to fire off assault weapons so bad, they should join an armed service.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Civis Valetudo (1 of 2)

In July of this year the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) posted a study showing that 62 percent of the bankruptcies in America occurred due to high medical bills. The study also showed that most of those who filed for bankruptcy were middle-class, well-educated homeowners. The study further showed that of that 62 percent, 80 percent had medical insurance.
It is abundantly obvious that the current health care system in America simply does not work.

The reason health care in America does not work is not because of the quality of care, however. It is important to keep that in mind. Health care in America is incredibly effective at improving the health of the sick, easing the pain of the dying, and maintaining the health of the well. As long as you can afford it. The reason health care in America does not work is that nobody can afford it.
The cost of health care must go down, and it is impossible that the cost will ever drop to sustainable levels while for-profit businesses run health-care in America.

This is fact. You can argue about Democrats or Republicans or Socialism or anything else, but don't bother denying that for-profit business has ruined health care in America.

So, here's the tricky part: HOW?
How do you lower costs? Where?

All the health care plans in Congress right now deal with only one facet of the cost of health care: insurance.
Insurance reform is important. Costs are high, "Pre-existing conditions" jack those costs higher or serve as the excuse to deny coverage (did you know that domestic abuse is considered a pre-existing condition). Companies that provide health insurance do so because it makes them money. And like any business, they work hard at cutting costs and programs which do not maximize their profitability.
It should not strain your logic receptors to realize that sick people do not maximize their profitability.

So, a big part of insurance reform, then would be to minimize the ways insurance companies look at their customers as positive and negative dollars.
One way would be to put caps on the amount insurance companies can make as profit. This, essentially, is what regulation does. It's government oversight on an industry to make sure it is not taking unfair advantage of its customers. Health insurers need more than just a reform bill, they need regulation.
Another way to help could be reward programs. My auto insurance gives me a discount for being a good driver. Health insurance could give you discount incentives for being healthy. They penalize you for being a smoker, or for being older, or for being in a situation that would make you more likely to require health care. If you can manage going a full year without requiring more than preventative health care, shouldn't you be rewarded with a reduction of how much you have to pay?

Unfortunately, looking at health care customers as dollar signs does not start and stop with health insurance companies.

When a pharmaceutical company invents a new drug, you can't just call up the company and buy some. You go to your doctor, who fills out a prescription, and you pick up the scrip at a drug store or other pharmacy. The cost of the drug depends on your health-care, and not merely on whether or not you have any. The cost of the drug can change literally depending on which insurance company you have and which health-care provider you use.
You know how you can go to a car lot and get a quote on a car, and then go to a different lot and get a lower or higher quote on the exact same car? Pharmaceuticals work the exact same way depending on your health care plan.

As a matter of fact, most of your health care costs can vary between plans. There is no standardized price on most health care services. It's a contract system.
A hospital will actually give one health insurance company a better deal on x-rays, CT scans, etc. than another company, depending on how many customers that health insurance company can bring the hospital for those services.

Another problem with for-profit health care?
A former Pfizer sales representative filed suit against the company for its practices. "At Pfizer, I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives," he said, in a statement. "I couldn't do that."(Emphasis mine)
In September this year, Pfizer pleaded guilty to one count of illegal marketing of one of their products. The fine they paid was $2.3 billion, the highest fine ever levied against an American company (Pfizer can make $2.3 billion in about 2 weeks). No one went to jail.
In the lawsuit, Pfizer was shown to encourage doctors to prescribe their product for off-label uses, including for children. The product was Bextra, a pain killer for arthritis and and menstrual pain. Additionally, the company paid doctors to come to lavish "consultant meetings" with the goal of getting doctors to prescribe the drug more often.
Industry insiders say this sort of thing is pretty common. Remember how it seemed every child with more energy than someone in a coma was prescribed Ritalin? Did it help? Is it one of the reasons autism is on the rise? Are pharmaceutical companies to blame?

The health care bill in Congress does not address the price gouging of these companies. It provides no oversight.
The health care lobby is spending more than $1.4 million per day on Congress to protect its interests and if you compare earlier proposals to current plans in Congress, and then compare that to what will eventually pass, it'll be pretty easy to see Congress rolling over at every opportunity.

The absolute easiest way to reduce to exorbitantly high price tag on health care is creating a single payer universal health care system: expanding Medicare to include everybody, for example.

There is an incredible amount of either confusion or outright deception on this issue. In part 2 I will attempt to clarify what I mean, and why single payer health coverage is a necessity.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Interview with Thomas Wills (part 1)

You are planning on running as an independent. Given the reluctance of American politics to fully embrace a three-party system, why did you choose to avoid a political party rather than committing yourself to the Democrats or Republicans or any other political party?

The answer partly lies in the question: America is reluctant to embrace a third party. And while party loyalty is still strong, I think it is safe to say that most Americans are dissatisfied with their government—on the federal, state, and local levels, all. Running as an independent is a subtle reminder to the people that my goal is reject the idea of “politics as usual” and work for change.

Rejecting “politics as usual” makes for a great soundbite, and it's one we've heard from the lips of more than a few candidates. How do you plan on making your soundbite sound better than anyone else?

(Laughing) Or to put it bluntly, why should you trust my line any more or less than the line of anyone else?

Yes, exactly. Is there a reason we can expect your rejection of “politics as usual” to be anything other than the usual (pardon the expression) bullshit?

(Laughing) Bullshit is a very apt way of describing politics as usual.

Part of the problem is we claim to be a government run by the people, but really it's a government run like a business. It's a clever deceit, too. We treat tax payers like investors—investors expect a return on their investment. Money out, equals money back. As long as the government looks like they are upholding their promise to put money back into the pockets of its citizens, the mob stays quiet, and the ways the government puts that money into their pockets is not examined too closely. But then look what happens when we're hit with an economic crisis: the health of our economy is determined by the fluctuations of a gambling system, legislators are more likely to listen to groups who fund their re-election campaigns rather than rest confident in their good performance. Essentially we've become a government propped up by the mere possibility of wealth and the thin illusion of good behavior.
One way I want to be different; well, let's start with one of the foundations of a political campaign: fund-raising. I really am going to run a campaign based solely on the internet. Obama showed us all how effective a tool the internet can be as a political tool. Unfortunately, Obama was tied down with the burden of being part of a major political party with their own expectations and demands. You can pay $5,000 dollars to be part of a breakfast and listen to the candidate speak, or you can just log on to a site and watch a web stream of the speech for free. While the money that goes into the campaign coffers keeps the machine moving, one side-effect is that it creates a class divide. “You too can hear the candidate speak in person, but only if you can afford it.” That sort of glad-handing feels like prostitution to me.


Well, you pay a call-girl for the pleasure of her company for an evening they same way you pay $5000 for the pleasure of a candidate's company during breakfast. Both are about as socially useful.
My idea is that I don't want donations. From anyone. What I suggest to anyone who would like to donate to my campaign is to send that money instead to a list of charitable organizations I have on my website as a gift from the Thomas Wills Campaign.
That way, even if I lose, at least some public good has come from my campaign.

And, no doubt, having the backing of those organizations won't hurt.

Word of mouth advertising is absolutely a better endorsement than a 30-second spot.

Don't you think those 30-second spots have a profound impact on the polls?

Another instance of politics as usual. Candidates always promise to run a clean campaign, but invariably they spend more time tearing each other down rather than promoting the benefits of their campaign. He Said/She Said political bullshit doesn't interest me, and I would hope it wouldn't interest my constituents neither. There is a dangerous implication in lowest-common-denominator advertising, which is the assumption that the majority of the people watching are idiots. No one likes to be called an idiot.

Even if it happens to be true?

I neither said that nor implied it. Call me an idealist, but I think our country would be a lot better off if our legislators and executives assumed the best, rather than the worst, of people.

Okay, you're an idealist. So how would you respond to a character or policy attack from a commercial?

I'm running as an independent; do you really thing the Democrats or the Republicans are going to waste any of their “precious” airtime attacking a third-party candidate? If I'm doing well enough in the polls for them to focus on me or my campaign, anything they would have to say would be free advertising. If they insist on holding onto their “politics as usual” style of campaigning, they are better off doing their best to ignore me.

What other differences are you planning for your campaign?

The media pretty much ignore third-party candidates, and you might think that a large struggle would be to gain media attention. The internet, however, changes all that. Rather than struggle for media attention, I can choose to embrace the lack thereof.
For instance, third party candidates are not included nor invited to town-hall debates and forums. Rather than clamor to be included, a video camera and a clever film editor can splice any of my responses to questions and candidate's opinions into the debate, and then I can post it on YouTube. Suddenly my participation in the debate is seen any time you do a Google search for the previous evening's debate. As long as my answers are good enough, word-of-mouth will do most of my work for me.

An added benefit would be that while I can respond to my opponents' positions, they have no defense against mine other than to pretend I don't exist.

If people see that you are important enough to respond to, then perhaps you are important enough to listen to.

Yes, exactly. Which is why their best tactic would be to ignore me. But the voice of a third party is exactly what those debates, those Diane Sawyer interviews, those major media coverages need, and I think word of mouth will make a big impact when I start posting videos.

How so?

Well, to be fair, President Obama is one hell of an orator, so I'm not sure the critique applies to him, but what we see in these campaigns is back-biting, bickering, finger-pointing, and a general reluctance to answer direct questions. Politicians know if they answer a direct question bluntly, they feel they are going to alienate some portion of their supporters. All their language twists around so that it can somehow be seen as a plus for conservative, moderate, and liberal bias groups all at the same time.

And you are not afraid to answer bluntly?

Why should I be? It's not like I'll be running for office without any realistic sense that I stand a chance in hell of winning. But that's not the point, for me. The point is that I'm doing what I think is right and needs to be done, and I hope that I can make enough of an impact to raise expectations of other candidates, that maybe voters won't be satisfied with the politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouths.

And an example of talking out of both sides of the mouth would be...

“Read my lips: no new taxes.”

You know, technically there weren't any new taxes...

That's fair, but then that quote was the topper for a pledge to not raise taxes either, which is exactly what happened.
Another example would be public condemnation of the war, even though you are voting to support it while in session.
Or, say, can you really make the claim you are “Pro-Life” if you oppose abortion but support the death penalty?

Oh goody, issues time! Time to see how different you really want to be. How do you feel about Roe v. Wade?

All the problems this country faces and you start with Roe v. Wade? (chuckling)

Okay, first you have got to recognize that Roe v. Wade doesn't encapsulate the abortion issue. How I feel about the one is not necessarily determined by how I feel about the other.
Firstly, I
am pro-choice—let's make that clear. And I support the use of abortion as a medical procedure to save the life of a woman or up-hold the choice made to not have a child. More on that in a second.
Second, because I believe in that abortion should be and remain legal, I don't support over-turning Roe v. Wade.
But! But I do not think that necessarily invalidates certain criticisms about the ruling. Coming to the right decision the wrong way is a dangerous way to interpret law and I strongly support narrow rulings on specific cases.

So, back to the pro-choice issue.

Right. Look, the choice to have or not have a child doesn't happen when the pee hits the stick. Many people make the choice to not have children before they even have sex, and they uphold that choice by using some form of contraceptive. Since birth control is not 100% effective, shouldn't those couples who chose from the get-go to not have children be allowed to make that choice again if, in the random spin of fate, their birth control fails and their choice is taken away from them?

Should a woman who has made the choice to not be sexually active not be allowed the choice to bear a child or not if that woman is a victim of rape?

Laws are not designed to make people slaves, incapable of making their own choices and decisions. I cannot support a law that would entrap citizens as victims of circumstance, regardless of their choice.

You can't have it both ways, though. I do not think it is fair to say that only some women can be allowed to terminate pregnancy, but others must be forced to go through it.

Would I like to see less abortions? Absolutely! I mean, hell, in my idea of a perfect world, birth control never fails, only people who are planning on children get pregnant, and the life of the mother is never in danger.
I think it's great that people advocate for the life of the child, but I think that abortion as a medical procedure has more benefits than abortion as a moral issue has detractions. And I would like to see less abortions due to a greater sense of personal and social responsibility on the part of our citizens, and not due to any sort of enforced legal morality.

Does that mean that you are against the law enforcing morality?

Of course not. It is pretty well established that murder is not useful or healthy in society, and therefore has been criminalized for as long as there has been the idea of civilization. I support making murder illegal: of course I do. But murders continue in spite of its illegality, and I don't think that murders will diminish just because we make harsher laws against it.

Are you equating murder with abortion?

Not hardly, though there are lots of folks who do. Prior to Roe v. Wade, most states allowed abortion if the woman's life was in danger because of the pregnancy, and there were also several states that had made abortion legal.

Most people will concede there is at least some instance where abortion would be okay, even if the only instance they concede would be to save the life of the mother.
I can't think of a single case where someone has successfully argued an instance of acceptable murder.

I think I could play devil's advocate here, but I see what you mean.

When I hear a person argue that there are too many abortions, I always respond that maybe it's because there are too many pregnancies, and perhaps there are too many pregnancies because too many people are having irresponsible sex.

If the problem then, is that too many people are having irresponsible sex, then the fact that there are too many abortions would be a symptom of the problem. You can't solve a problem by only going after its symptoms. It's foolish to try.

Yet, again and again, we see our government going after the symptoms of the problem rather than meeting the problem itself head-on.

Can you provide any other examples?

Look at all our bailouts with TARP money. The stock market collapsing wasn't the problem, and the banks getting stuck with bad debt wasn't the problem. But that's where we are throwing all the money, and ignoring the relaxed oversight on Wall Street and the blatant unaccountability of Credit Default Swaps. All TARP is doing is trying to get us back to business as usual. And business as usual is a debt economy, where people borrow money—in the form of loans or credit cards—in order to go from day to day.

Or look at how we're dealing with Iran, and by extension the Muslim world in general. We're so set on preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, but do you think Iran would feel it necessary if Israel didn't have any nukes? Besides, Iran has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel hasn't. How many of the troubles in the Middle East stem from the aggressive tactics of the Zionists in Israel? Which is the problem, and which the symptom?

Would you be okay, then, if Iran had a nuclear weapon?

In a perfect world, I'd be okay if no one would have a nuclear weapon, but I can definitely understand why Iran would want one. But I'm not totally convinced they are tying to make one. Iran has been fully compliant with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and fully transparent with the uranium-enrichment program as well. The last report released by the IAEA states that all nuclear material at Iran's fuel enrichment plant remain “under Agency containment and surveillance”. At this point, the IAEA would have to be helping Iran create a nuclear weapon for it to be possible.

Why do you think this and the previous administrations continue to claim a weapons program exists?

Why did they claim one existed in Iraq? Fear is a great motivator to get the mob behind you in support for war.

Do you think this administration wants war?

If it doesn't it has a funny way of showing it. Our fighting forces show no sign of coming home any time soon. Troop presence continues to rise in Afghanistan. Guantanamo remains open. We're still not out of Iraq. I know Zionist Israel would just love it if we attacked a few more countries in the Middle East, and the Israeli Lobby on the Hill is as strong and influential as ever.
Biden is a staunch supporter of Israel and the same week Obama won the democratic primary he was assuring the Israeli Lobby that American support for Israel would remain undiminished.

You seem pretty critical of Israel.

I'm all for the establishment of a Jewish State, but they have such a horrible grasp of diplomacy. When you are surrounded by neighbors who may or may not appreciate you moving in, the best course of action is accommodation, not belligerence. Yet the entirety of Hebrew history in the region—if one is to believe the Old Testament—demonstrates the only way they know how to greet a neighbor is with violence.
You don't criticize a rabid dog, you put it down. Israel is hardly rabid, so they deserve every ounce of criticism directed towards them.
But criticism is not what our leaders seem to be doing. We levy sanctions against countries that defy U.N. Resolutions, except Israel, which has ignored more than sixty. We react strongly and harshly against countries with weapons of mass destruction, except Israel. We'll invade Iraq because, we claim, the government is terrorizing its citizens. Our response to Israel's treatment of Palestine is much more supportive.

Yeah, I'm critical of Israel. They are a massive destabilizer in a region which helps provide much of the world's oil. I expect better from them.

You mentioned the usage of TARP funds as treating a symptom and not the problem. What's your plan to rebuild the health of the economy?

Okay, look, wealth is only useful if there is any substance to it. Wealth without substance is called a bubble, and when it pops you're left with nothing. We viewed home equity as a source of wealth, but then we borrowed all the substance out of it with mortgages, and when the housing bubble popped, look what happened. There wasn't any value to the wealth, do you know what I mean?
The stock market works the same way. Your investments can make you money, but that wealth only exists as long as the market bubble doesn't pop.

So it makes little sense to attempt to rebuild an empty economy by saving the Wall Street and credit companies; you're just inflating another bubble.

To truly have a healthy, thriving economy, we must be able to accumulate wealth that has actual value to it. One way, I suppose, would be to suddenly find a gold mine worth five trillion dollars.

What this economy needs is production. We can't be satisfied with merely creating jobs, they have to be production jobs. Service jobs are great, but providing a service does not have any tangible, solid value. Not the way actually making things to be sold does.

I'm not sold on the idea that corporate off-shoring of production is better for the economy. Sure, it drives down prices, and for a while, we got away with measuring our economic health by people's willingness to by, as long as we didn't look to closely at how they were buying. Is our economy really that healthy if our buying power is propped up solely by our willingness pay by credit? I don't think so. It's another illusion of wealth.

So the other thing we need to do to fix the economy is start behaving much more conscientiously and intelligently when we shop. The government can only do so much. If people want the economy to get better they have to work just as hard as their government to fix it. The government can't control the buying habits of consumers, all we can do is do our best to make sure companies are not taking advantage of their customers or tax laws.

How do you feel about taxes? What's your plan?

Taxes are necessary for a government to function. That's the plain, simple truth. You can't even call them a necessary evil, unless you feel like government is a necessary evil, and I guess there's people who do. That being said, I think people don't understand what taxes are for, including the people who propose new taxes.

Taxes are like an investment in the community. Do you want your community to be better able to fight and prevent crimes and fires? That comes from your taxes. Do you want your streets free of trash? Do you want your sewage properly disposed of? Taxes. Do you want your country able to present itself effectively in commerce and diplomacy with other nations? The people doing it have to be paid somehow.
Now, I know no one likes paying taxes. I get that. But I think part of that comes from the idea that you're giving the government a portion of your paycheck, but you don't see what they are doing with it that benefits you somehow. I think an infinitely more transparent budget will satisfy some of that reluctance.

My other main idea about taxes is that they should be fair. I know this sounds like a given, but when I say fair, I mean they apply to everybody equally. The Democrats have this mantra lately: raise taxes on the rich. They can afford to pay more taxes so maybe they should. I don't like that idea. For one thing, it clarifies a class difference between citizens, and one of the founding tenets of our country was one of equality. Additionally, most of the “rich” worked hard to get where they are, and it doesn't seem right to penalize them by forcing them to pay more than the average citizen.

So, here's my plan, and I know it won't be very popular. Our tax law is a mess. Loopholes abound. I'd love for two things to happen: 1) Close the loopholes. Tax write-offs aren't bad, but lying and cheating to get them is. I'd like to work to limit the type and amount of write-offs that citizens can utilize to balance their life and work. Also—and here is where the “rich” come into play—is that the richer you are, the more write-offs are available because you can find more loopholes. So closing the loopholes would in a sense raise taxes on the rich without actually singling them out. 2)Flatten out the income tax rates from a progressive tax towards more of a fixed one. This idea is highly unpopular in America, which always struck me as ironic given that we wave the “we're the land of equality” flag around.

These two ideas obviously will run into a lot of opposition, and I'm more than willing to debate about them, but you can't ignore the fact that my plan is designed to ensure everyone pays their fair share.

It then falls on the government to use that money responsibly. And this is another reason people are reluctant to pay their taxes: they don't trust their government. And no wonder, given the kind of partisan bickering you see on the Hill. We need a vast restructuring of our spending so that our budget can properly handle the needs of the people.

Can you name a few examples?

A big one we can start with would be our military spending. It's a hot button issue, I know. You mention you want to lower military spending and people think you're trying to weaken America. The problem is they are equating an amount to how safe they feel. The higher the amount, the safer they feel. But what they don't realize is how much wasteful spending occurs. We could cut that amount in half and still be the top country in military spending. You could combine the military spending of the next three countries below us, and we'd still spend more. We need to spend smarter; if we do that the public will realize how many billions of extra money suddenly appear that the military doesn't need.

Look at the F-22. Billions were being spent on a fighter less efficient and performing worse than fighter planes built twenty years ago. Thank god they killed that program, but that is merely one example of many that need looking at.

We need to either disband NATO or invite Russia to join. The Cold War is over, and both disbanding or Russian joining would help lower our overseas military spending. We don't need military bases in every country. Especially in NATO countries. What makes sense to me is each NATO country being responsible for the housing and care of a NATO base. Troops would mix together, helping to establish not just a sense of alliance, but a better idea of global community. That would mean, of course, that we would need to establish a base here in America, and once again, you'd hear the moans from a double-standard populace who feel it's necessary to house our soldiers in bases on Allied soil but inappropriate for Allies to do the same.

I could go on and name more examples, but it's all available on my website. What sums it up, I think, is that I recognize that as far as nations on Earth go, America is a baby. We're merely two hundred years old, and we kind of act like were in our “terrible twos”. It's all “me me me” and “mine mine mine”. My goal is to get America to grow up a little. We need to learn to share. We're old enough that we should be held accountable for our actions. This expectation falls not merely on our government, but also on our citizens.

Up next, Thomas Wills on the “3 Gs”: Guns, God, and Gays.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Novus Statua Orbis Terraria

Okay, so far I've managed to keep working, and also not piss off the government so as to be snatched from my home and sent to Guantanamo (Why is the place still open, again?). Not bad for a recession and apocolitical (apocalypse and political, pushed together. Brilliant.) landscape.

It would have been nice when Obama was campaigning if when he said he'd pull our troops out of Iraq, he mentioned that he'd merely be moving most of them to Afghanistan. So far he hasn't lied to our faces, which is a refreshing step away from our last administration, but there have been lots and lots of "oh, by the way" addendums that make me feel the American people are still being misled by the Hidey-Hos in power.

Congress is still as ineffectual as ever. Everyone made a big deal about Arlen Specter defecting to the democrats, which would make them filibuster proof (not that anything filibuster worthy has been proposed). But I think the big lesson to be learned is that the folks in Congress will do anything to keep their seat.
I'm thinking I'll send some letters to my congressfolk, letting them know I can't vote for a congressperson who votes to increase troop presence in the Middle East. That I can't vote for someone who would allow the torture of any person, from any country. That I can't vote for someone who would place the economic health of a corporate entity over the economic health of the American public.

If getting votes is all that matters to these people, then maybe we should make them earn it, rather than voting down the party line. Especially since Specter showed us exactly what party loyalty means.
I am increasingly convinced that the only way to bail out the political dungheap in Washington DC is by a massive immersion by a third political party into the government system.

On a local level, California's budget is a clusterfuck, and the latest round of voting was nothing but a stirring of the shit pot.
Whoever writes these Propositions is one of the smartest fools I can imagine. Every proposition is an issue that immediately divides people into Yes's and No's over the issue itself. What I don't hear people asking is whether we need the proposition in the first place.
Such as that Proposition guaranteeing a certain amount of the budget goes towards the maintainence of our roads. Now, I think our roads are important, and I certainly think that a certain amount of the state budget should go towards their upkeep. Unless of course, something happens where it'd be more important to put that money elsewhere (ahem, like our current budget crisis). That is why I voted no on it. But people were stuck on the debate over whether money should be given to roads or not. Like the budget wasn't already giving money to roads.
All these pet project propositions locked money into their own containers, prohibiting the mobility necessary to deal with a fluid economy that shifts constantly, and often to great extremes. There's no longview in the minds of most voters.

And what you don't hear is any politicians trying to get people to see the longview. It's as if they've abdicated the running of the state government to voters.

And so during the last election, I voted no on all the propositions except the raise increase one (though I almost voted no on that one, since the language seemed to guarantee wage increases in years where there wasn't a deficit).
A proposition I would love to have seen was one unlocking all of the money previously locked into those pet projects of previous propositions (alliteration rocks!). Basically, it would roll back every previous budget prop to where it was if they never happened. I would have voted for that one. We need to hit a hard reset on our budget, start from scratch, and begin by establishing a budget that deals with what is truly necessary, and allocating excess towards pet projects.

The only way that'll happen is by making enough noise to get it on a ballot. So start clamoring.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cella Pro Disputatio

At some point--and I'm not really sure when, why, or how--a perception arose in the minds of many Americans that somehow the President was more like a king. Stay with me here, for a moment. What I mean is that every time a major decision in America needs to be made, it feels as though people are waiting for the President to make it.

Take, for example, the torture memos. You've heard about this, right? The Justice Department released four Bush-era torture memorandums to the public, following an ACLU lawsuit claiming the Freedom of Information Act. The contents are simple. They are an examination on the legality of torturing prisoners of the so-called "war on terror". Another way of looking at it is trying to find a way to ignore US and International Law prohibiting torture.
And then, the NY Times reports, Obama tells Congress that "a full inquiry" into the torture system would "steal time and energy from his policy agenda."

I'll just bet that Congress breathed two huge sighs of relief when he told them that.
The first sigh would be because Congress--Republicans and Democrats--were complicit in the torture system, since the Bush Administration briefed them on it.
The second sigh would be because a full investigation of the Bush Torture system would no doubt lead to uncovering the covert tortures authorized by Democratic and Republican regimes going back decades.

The only problem is that of course Obama won't be making an inquiry into the torture system. He can't. It's not part of his job. The investigation of possible violations of federal law is the responsibility of the Justice Department. The prosecution of possible violations of federal law is the responsibility of the Justice Department.
Why the perception that it's somehow King President's responsibility? I'm not sure, but I'll be it has something to do with the prior administration keeping the Justice Department leashed like a pet, and of the simpering acquiescence of its Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez.

So if someone argues that it would be a "distraction" to investigate the torture they are either lying or repeating a lie someone else told them. So don't be afraid to call bullshit.

The other issue that some people feel is worthy of debate it not about whether torture was legal, but whether it was necessary. That maybe these steps needed to be taken to save lives, and law could not predict the state our nation is in.
Let me put it to you this way: If another nation committed any of these atrocious acts against an American soldier or citizen, our righteous fury and indignation would know no bounds. So to claim that it's not okay for them to do it but is okay for us would make you either a hypocrite or a total idiot.
Let me put it to you another way: Can we really expect an extremist religious or political group to not retaliate if we start torturing its members? How many lives are we actually saving?

There is room for only one debate.
The debate is not over the efficacy of torture. The debate is not about the legality of torture. The debate is not about the morality of such tactics.
The only debate we should be having is over how many people should be indicted for crimes committed in the establishment and enactment of the torture regime.

My opinion is all of them.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dimidiae quod Dimidium Nodus

So, I heard this story yesterday, apparently it was on NPR: There was a job as a school janitor in Ohio that opened up, and 700 people applied. The end.

I think it's safe to say at this point that our economy is seriously fucked, and it's going to take a lot of work getting out of the mess we're in.

President Obama's State of the Union address had a bit to say about the economy...Fine speech, I think. After 8 years of a Southern-accented monkey mangling English worse than the Welsh in Shakespeare, anything will sound better. But I think it actually was a good speech.

He makes a great point: The economic crisis is the greatest American issue affecting our country.
While it's true we certainly are in the economic shitter, I think an even greater issue than the economic crisis is what caused the economic crisis: namely, de-industrialization, militarism, and corporate political power. And these issues were never addressed, even though there is a clear need to deal with the deepening level of recession.
In February, 651,000 jobs were lost, making it the third month in a row where more than 600,000 jobs were lost. The last time America had three months in a row of that many jobs lost was in 1939.
The President's proposed budget was $3.5trillion. The federal deficit is expected to hit $1.75trillion. Half of the budget will be financed by red ink.

The trouble with the proposals put forward by the President is that none of them show much chance of working.
During his speech, he stressed the need to get banks lending again. The problem is not that banks aren't lending, the problem is that no one is borrowing. Who wants to invest in an economy going down the toilet? Auto sales are down 40%, despite offers from GM, Ford, and Toyota for no money down and 0% financing. 0% financing? Clearly the difficulty is not that consumers are unable to borrow, they just don't want to. People are cutting back on their spending because of the recession, so what do they need to borrow for? Debt relief? It makes no sense to go into debt to pay off debt. Somehow, with the team of bankers at the President's side, this fact gets ignored. It's also why the first $350billion given to banks was as effective as pissing on a forest fire: no one noticed a difference. Look at the market value of these companies. Citigroup received $75billion in bailout money, and their market value is worth only $5.4billion. That's less than what Autozone is worth. AIG received $180billion, and their market value is worth less than $1billion.
It makes no sense whatsoever to dump money into this black hole of a financial market. But all the Wall Street cronies who make up President Obama's economic team continue to suggest that dropping billions on these companies will somehow rebolster the economy.

The only solution to the economic crisis is job creation and security. America is stuck in a massive trade deficit: we consume more than we produce (One of the reasons Rome fell is that it was forced to conquer other nations just to satisfy its appetite). Corporate outsourcing to other countries for cheaper labor is just as bad for the economy as if they weren't providing a product in the first place. There goes job creation. Job security is under fire in many cases(especially in the IT realm, with firms like GE and Microsoft, to be specific) by corporations who replace their American workers with foreign workers under H-1b work visas, who work for much cheaper.
Suddenly America is filled with employees who have a Masters in Business looking for work selling Starbucks or Pinkberry. 700 people apply for a janitor position in a school in Ohio. Service industry jobs have been the main source of job creation in America for quite some time. Everytime Prezzy Bush got on television bragging about the number of jobs created in America, the vast majority of those jobs were in the service industry. The trouble is, service industry jobs don't actually make anything. It's pure consumer spending with no production involved. The imbalance between consuming and producing needs to be fixed immediately. Corporate America needs greater incentive (or harsher penalties) to create jobs in America rather than offshore, and fill them with American workers rather than foreign employees with a work visa. This is the only way to turn the economy around.

All this spells disaster in education, too. You don't need higher education to sell coffee or clothes. Hell, you don't need a high school education to sell coffee or clothes. That's why these jobs were great part time jobs for students. Now it's become a job for anyone who needs to make money while they try to enter or reenter a full time work-force which has no room for them.
Kids are smart, too. Well, they're good at picking up moods, anyway. Expect drop-outs to go up as kids figure out there's no reason to complete high school unless you actually like education.
Given the sorry state of our public school system, I don't imagine too many kids liking the education they are receiving.
Why is it always the arts that get cut out of a child's development first? It is in the Arts where a child's imagination and creativity develop and assume physical shape, in the form of music or painting or poetry or whatever. And it is only from a healthy imagination and well-tended garden of creativity that will encourage scientific innovation, social solutions, and feats of engineering.
Before we were able to land on the moon, someone had to dream about it.
Without the Arts, reading and writing and arithmetic becomes merely letters and numbers on a page without any concept of usefulness.

The best things the government can do to turn the economy around is assist local governments in funding schools and educational programs (and get rid of the creativity killing No Child Left Behind Act), and job creation.
Like putting the unemployed to work installing and renovation green systems, like Geothermal Heating and Cooling. Tax cuts to home-owners to renovate towards green technology will bolster and encourage a market for it, and the market will create jobs to fill that need.
Seriously, check out Geothermal systems, it's pretty amazing (the article I linked is a decade old, too).

The best things the public can do to turn the economy around is work on balancing their consumption of goods with an equal share of production. And when we buy, we need to be mindful that products made in other countries do not help our economy.

Perhaps you've heard of the Invisible Hand Theory of Economics? It's also known as trickle-down economics.
The idea is that when you buy a product, that money goes to a company, and the company uses some of that money to pay their employees, who then go buy more products and the process repeats. It is like a ripple effect, or an invisible hand gently rubbing the testicles of economy.
The trouble with this theory in our current free market economy is that when we buy products from foreign companies (or from American companies who've moved production offshore) we are putting our money in companies who are paying employees who don't live in America. Those employees then by products in their own country, and with American production being so low, the products they buy are not likely to be American.
The Invisible Hand is trying to stimulate a vacuum.

Now, I get it. When you want to buy a product, you want to buy the best product you can at the best price available. But I encourage you to do your research. See if you can get something just as good only made in America. Even better would be made in America by companies who are environmentally responsible.
Consumers control the market. Corporations merely fill it. Essentially, it's consumerism which drives corporate production. Use your control wisely.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." --Aristotle

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hic Mundus Infractus

"The world must be broken, I realized, for a boy like me to have to bury a boy like William K" --"What is the What?" by David Eggers about Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese Lost Boy

"Angels on the sideline, baffled and confused. Father blessed them all with reason, and this is what they choose? Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground..." --"Right in Two" by MJK

Things are getting fairly ridiculous, now. Of course, I say "getting" but what I really mean is I'm learning how ridiculous things really are. And it's not like I have a small world-view.

The money-lender, America's modern aristocrat, has decimated financial institutions all over the world. The Treasury Department's solution to the bad debt crippling most of America is to encourage Americans to borrow more.
(On a side note: I've been trying to redefine the class system in America towards something other than income, given the huge disparity between the richest 5% and everyone else. I've decided that Upper Class means that the decisions you make won't really affect you, certainly not as much as how much your decisions will affect others. Middle Class means that all your decisions are very important; you ride the line in the middle, and each choice hugely matters as to whether life will get better, worse, or stay the same. Lower Class means you lose any real power of choice because your options are incredibly limited. This means that a responsible person who may not make that much money may actually be Upper-Middle Class, where general decisions don't matter all that much, allowing a certain amount of financial freedom. It also means that an irresponsible person who makes a good bit of money could quickly find himself Lower Class based on the choices he makes in Middle Class.)

While the world economy spirals deeper into trouble, the prospect of total war in the Middle East continues to loom. But let us not forget that the Middle East does not have a monopoly on violence. There is a horrid situation going on in Africa as well. The power-mongering of warlords and other heads of state resulting in the death and displacement of millions. There is as much a right to call what is happening there genocide as any other instance of it in history. And this is merely examples of the violence occurring on the other side of the world. South America, Central America, the troubled streets of our own country seem full--to the brim sometimes--with people willing, able, and attempting to kill their neighbors.
Can you really look at what is happening to the planet and continue to make the argument that violence solves anything? We merely hasten the extinction of ourselves.

Truly, our arrogance holds no bounds. Our greed and consumption destroy any idea of economy, our hatred and suspicion and violence usurp any idea of government, and our waste and waste of resources are having a disastrous effect on the environment.
I know there is some crazy debate in the scientific community about whether humans have an effect on climate change, but largely the lines are drawn between corporate-sponsored scientists being paid to debunk human induced global warming and the rest of the scientists specializing in climatology who readily affirm that humans effect climate change.
Really, it's a matter of common sense. When you fart, you change the climate of your immediate surroundings--because of the gas coming out of your ass--to have an unpleasant odor. The effect dissipates rather quickly. But imagine the gases and minute particles being injected at a steady rate by power plants, automobiles, factories, airplanes, boats, etc. into a much larger surrounding area. The effect dissipates much more slowly. So, really, pollution is an immediate visual identification of climate change dissipating slowly over time. But that's just the visual (or olfactory, in most cases as well) effects.
A fart has an immediate olfactory effect on the environment in a small area. What we can't see is what happens to the gas you've just expelled from your butt. Where does it go? It doesn't just disappear, it blends into the rest of the gases that make up the air we breathe. That blending is what makes the smell go away.
So while the visual (and other sensual) effects of pollution may lessen and disappear over time, that doesn't mean that the shit we've been pumping into the air has disappeared, it's been mixed in with all the other natural gases of our atmosphere. A steady increase in gases in the atmosphere is going to effect the way our atmosphere behaves, because we are changing its contents. This isn't science, it's common sense. The fact that we can't see or smell or taste of feel the effects immediately does not mean that we never will. Do we really need to test how much pollution we can pump into our atmosphere before we start feeling the changes, or do you think that maybe we should stop now while we still can?
It's a simple answer, but one that doesn't mesh well with greed and our Machievellan sense of capitalism. Because, let's be clear. There is no good reason to pollute our planet. But it happens simply by virtue of us being here. Everybody farts.
So maybe we should do everything we can to lessen our impact on the environment, and the ecosystem, of Earth.

Oh wait. We're a broken world, I forgot. We kill who we want. Step on and over who we want. Steal from whoever we see. Demolish whatever someone else builds. Generally, we make an effort (we make an effort!) to become the worst part of our planet rather than the greatest.
Do you ever wonder if God waited until everything else was created to make humans because he wasn't sure if we were a good idea?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Victus Viridis

So, it's 2009, and America is in a recession. But there's that pesky environmental concern that just won't go away. How do you balance green living with scrounging for dollars? Here's a few tips.

Easy electrical tips:
1. CFBs. Compact florescent bulbs are the easiest way to insert some green living into your lifestyle. Sure, they cost a little more initially, but the long term payoff is huge: a)they last longer than incandescent bulbs so you purchase fewer (which helps offset the initial cost) and b) their wattage is much less so you pay less per month on your electric bill. How much less? Well, consider that a the equivalent wattage on a CFB for a 60w incandescent bulb is 10 watts. So if you are able to light six lamps in your house but use the same wattage as if you were only using one lamp, that's a discernible difference. The equivalent wattage on a CFB for a 100w incandescent is 14 watts.
This brings me to my next point.

2. How much lighting do you need? There is a 4 bulb chandelier above the dining room table at my house. Is it necessary to have all 4 bulbs on at once? Is it possible to light the room comfortable using three bulbs? Two? One, even? This is really a question of personal accountability. It's about taking a close look at how much light you are comfortable living in and then going for the absolute minimum. There are 40w incandescent bulb equivalents in a CFB. The lighting may be dimmer, but for me, I'm comfortable with that. When I lived in my studio, I could light practically my whole house on 8 watts.

3. Turn off your stuff. Turning off the lights when you're not in the room is a given. Everyone should do that already, and if you don't, shame on you. But how about other things? Automatic toothbrush chargers, for instance. The stay plugged in, and serve as a spot to hold your toothbrush, but it's a constant (albeit tiny) drain of electricity. Try plugging in the charger only when your toothbrush needs charging. Or kitchen appliances. If there's a clock on the stove, do you need to leave the microwave and coffee pot turned on? Okay, maybe if you're the type who has the coffee pot automatically make coffee for you in the morning you'd need it, but it's something to take into consideration. Standby mode on a computer is a tiny drain of electricity, is there a problem with shutting it down when it's not being used?
Shutting down computers is actually a big one. Keeping those things running all the time is not good green living.

4. Plenty of shade. While studies are inconclusive on whether more shade will help an air conditioner run better, during the summer months, direct sunlight can heat a building the same way an oven can. Good shade, especially natural plantlife, can act as a buffer between the sun and your house, which can lower the internal temperature of the house, which makes the air conditioner not work as hard. Check the path of the sun during the hottest months, and plan your shading accordingly. A minimal investment can make a big difference.

Advanced electrical tips:
1. Energy star compliance. So, it'll take quite a bit more of an investment, but energy efficient appliances are worth it, if you can afford them. Especially a refrigerator. Always on, always working hard, having a fridge working on less power ends up saving quite a bit every month in electricity. An efficient washer and dryer will also make a big difference over time. Appliances are never cheap, and in this economy, there's probably better uses for your money than new appliances, but if you are in the market for them (due to current appliance being broken, or whatever) definitely look into energy efficient appliances.

2. Solar water heating. This is a great way to get involved in solar energy without the vast amounts of money necessary to put solar paneling on the roof of your house. Additionally, if your water heater runs on natural gas, it's a huge reduction on your pull of natural resources.

3. Green power. You can actually request this as an option for powering your home. It costs a little more, but as wind farms and solar fields go up, you have the option of requesting your electricity to come from these sources rather than the coal, oil, or nuclear power plants you normal pay for. An increase of demand should warrant an increase of supply.

Easy Water Tips:
People often forget that water conservation is a major part of green living, but it is absolutely necessary, especially in high population density areas.
1. Check for leaks. Keep tabs on your faucets and drains, catch the leaks early and fix them immediately. Good plumbing will not only save you money later, it saves water now.

2. Use a brick. It's a neat trick as long as your toilet drains with some power: drop a large rock into your toilet tank. It means you'll be using less water to refill the toilet, which is one of the major water resources used in the home.

3. Learn about horticulture. The other big drain on water resources is watering the lawn. Most lawns are way over-watered. Check the type of grass, and then check the timer on your water sprinkler (if you have one). If you live in an apartment complex, get the super to check it (odds are good they know as little about lawns as everyone else).

4. Re-use water. This is a tough one to get into the habit of doing but it's worth it if you do, especially if you don't have a dishwasher. Use a biodegradable soap (there are plenty out there) to wash your dishes, and don't let the water drain into the sink. You can use that water after the dishes are done to water plants. This is another way to help your yard continue to look pretty without overdoing it on the water sprinklers. As an added bonus, the odors in the soaps keep many plant-eating bugs away for those who've a mind to start growing their own vegetables. This type of water is called "grey water", water that has been dirtied, but still isn't completely useless; unlike "black water" which would be the type of water getting flushed down the toilet.

Advanced Water tips:
1. Energy Star. I can't say it enough, if you have the money and you need to repair or replace an appliance, get one that is Energy Star compliant. An energy efficient washing machine not only uses electricity more efficiently, it also uses less water. Same with an energy efficient dishwasher.

2. Native and climate appropriate plant-life. Another good investment you can make if you've got the money is re-landscaping. Unfortunately, many yards are landscaped to look pretty, regardless of how much water the plants would need and whether or not the plant is native to the region. Native plantlife is designed to thrive in the environment it's from, so take a look at your options and see what your yard could use and what you can get rid of. For areas like Southern California, look at high shade/low water plant life. Look at alternatives to a lawn (like stones or mulch), if you can stand it (most grass isn't native to California). It is possible to have a quite beautiful native lawn which provides plenty of shade but requires very little watering outside of normal rainfall parameters.
Another consideration to keep in mind is deep irrigation watering. Watering the surface of the ground allows some of the water to evaporate before the plant is able to absorb it. It also encourages the root system to stay near the surface, which is how sidewalks and other concrete foundations start to crack. Deep irrigation encourages the roots to grow downward. See here for more details on planting new foliage for your yard.

3. Grey water systems. You know how I was talking about grey water? There are actually systems you can get installed in your home which will automatically distribute grey water into your irrigation system. They are fairly expensive to purchase and install, but the environmental benefit and water savings over time will eventually make up the expense. This is another great idea for people who have the capital on hand but aren't sure how to spend it towards green living. Even though it isn't currently, "grey water" should be a buzz-word on the lips of every Californian concerned about fresh-water distribution and green living.

Other tips.
1. Recycling isn't enough. It's great that we recycle, and we use products which are made from x% of recycled materials, but we also need to be smarter in how we consume. It may be great that you are buying waterbottles made of recycled plastics, but if you go through three or four water bottles per day, that's still a lot of energy waste. Look into getting a refillable bottle, as an example of living, not just greener, but smarter.
2. Go paperless. Most bills can be sent to you via email now, reducing the paper wasted on mailings. You can also pay most bills online, which reduces paper and saves money on postage.
Our society tosses untold amounts of paper. Think of it this way: We've lost forests for the pleasure of wiping our ass. And until somebody actually invents the 3SeaShells (thank you, Demolition Man), that's a consumable we aren't going to recycle. Also, consider the act of recycling itself. It consumes natural resources to harvest the tree, requires natural resources to convert the tree to paper, and it requires natural resources all over again to recycle the paper.
So while recycling is good, consumering less paper and plastic is also a very good goal to have.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bellum quod bellum ventus

"All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." --UN Charter, Article 2(4)

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations..." --UN Charter, Article 51

So, yeah, the Gaza Strip. It seems like one wants to talk about it. Since reporters aren't allowed in by Israeli forces, the media accepts whatever news briefs IDF (Israeli Defense Force) hand them, and offer little in the way of analysis. It's almost like everyone is afraid of criticizing Israel because they are afraid of being labeled and anti-Semite.

Which is, of course, absurd. Not that it is absurd that someone would toss the anti-Semite label around towards critics, but absurd that that would be enough to cow someone into keeping their mouth shut.
It is not anti-Semitic to say that the actions of Israel against the inhabitants of Gaza are completely socially and morally reprehensible.
The Palestinians are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises to have occurred since apartheid. Some would argue this trumps apartheid and it hasn't been this bad since the Holocaust.

It is a grim situation. After Israel pulled all its settlers out of Gaza in 2005, all land, air, and sea access to Gaza has been strictly regulated by Israeli military. Humanitarian aid and supplies have been allowed into the country in reduced amounts, until now Israeli sea patrols are ramming aside boats bringing humanitarian aid into Gaza by sea. The Palestinians are an oppressed people, herded like sheep into ghettos, starved, jobless, and relying very nearly solely on what other sympathetic countries can manage to get to them in the way of aid.

That a few home-made missiles have been fired into Israel as protest shouldn't really surprise anyone. A violent response to oppression and occupation was exactly how America won its freedom. And like America then, Palestine has exhausted all diplomatic channels.
Does that make firing their missiles into civilian areas right? Of course not. But these missiles are an act of desperation, from a people, some would argue, being forced into genocide--like the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943.
And dare you say Israel's treatment of Gazans isn't anything like genocide, I would refer you to provisions of the Genocide Convention of 1948, reiterated in the Rome Charter of the International Criminal Court (2002): "(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

These actions cannot be ignored, nor can they continue to be unremarked upon.
The bombing of two UN schools by IDF on January 6th was explained by IDF spokesman Benjamin Rutland as a legitmate response to Hamas militants using civilians as cover to fire rockets at Israeli forces. They even offered military footage as proof. Except that it was phony.
Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, expressed his outrage, explaining how IDF's "demonstrative evidence" was actually "from a 2007 video and bears no connection to Tuesday's military strike on the school."

Regardless of the actions of the few militants in Gaza, they do not represent the views of the whole of the Gazan population, and airstrikes which target areas indiscriminately concerning civilians in the most densely populated area of the region is inexcusable. In fact, punishing the entire 1.5 million people of Gaza for the actions of a few militants is a direct violation of Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions.

Of course, the Geneva Conventions are taking a back seat in foreign military action with Israel and its major ally, The United States. And with the chickenhawks in Washington chomping at the bit for an excuse for military action against Iran, what do you think will happen if Iran follows up on its promise to break Israel's blockade by force if Israel won't lower it voluntarily?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

purgo animus

For the past few years, instead of resolutions to attempt and fail during the new year, I've been giving myself a detox. You know, I've spent the whole previous year abusing the hell out of my body, and I should probably purge some of that out of my system before I abuse it some more.

It's just for a month, and in previous years, I've given up drinking and smoking for the month and taken certain supplements to help clean the system and getting running at optimum(ish) precision.

This year, for whatever reason, I decided to step it up a notch. This month, I'm giving up alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and red meat. And I'll be taking those supplements to help cleanse the body. It should be an interesting exercise, and I'm mostly certain I'm going to end up cheating, but I like the idea of it, and let's be honest, I put myself through a hell of a lot of abuse this past fall. Depression has a way of doing that.
Nothing clinical, mind you. Just a steady grinding away by life, seeing how many times I can get knocked down before I stop climbing to my feet.

That's one thing I'm proud of, starting up the new year: I'm still standing.