Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The truth will set you...SOLD!

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh
The New York Times reports that the Supreme Court is expected to issue a groundbreaking ruling concerning campaign finance.

The debate has been re-energized with the rare request for second arguments in a case concerning "Hillary: the Movie." The film was made by Citizens United, a conservative political group that, in this case, aimed at discrediting Senator Clinton both personally and politically during the 2008 election.

The film was not permitted to be distributed online or via DVD because the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws prohibit corporate money from being used in such a manner. The court could potentially negate those laws as well as overturn the 1990 decision in the case of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce which originally banned corporate money from being used to either support or oppose political candidates.

Precedents concerning the current case before the Court go much further back. In the 1886 decision of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the Court extended the right of personhood to corporations (though there is considerable debate about the intention of the Court in this case, the effect remains the same). Nearly a century later in 1975, Buckley v. Valeo established a seemingly separate precedent that money constitutes a form of free expression and is thus protected under the first amendment.

Those in favor of restricting limitations on campaign finance are using the current case to connect the logical dots between 1886, 1975, and 2008. If corporations are persons, then corporations are guaranteed free speech under the first amendment. Money is a form of free speech. Therefore, limiting the amount of money a corporation can spend on any cause is a violation of the first amendment.

Logically this argument appears sound, and ordinarily I would not be against limiting free speech in any way, but I make an exception here for various reasons.

First, extending financial contributions in such a way would actually make corporations more person-like than people. People are limited to $2,400 donations to individual candidates and $30,400 to political parties per election year. Removing the cap from corporate spending places individuals' "monetary speech" below that of corporations -- though one could argue that system already exists.

Second, corporations are not actually people. The 1886 case extended the rights of individuals to corporations, but none of the responsibilities or consequences that come with those rights. An argument based on the full personhood of corporations is based on a false assumption.

Lastly, to allow infinite monetary contributions to campaigns by corporations would be an affront to representative democracy. Essentially, such a ruling would make a fact what many already assume to be true: a vote for every dollar, not for every person.

Though I am not much for argumentation on the basis of intention, I think it applies here. The creation of a corporation is intended to protect personhood by removing the business from the individual. It safeguards the personal assets of owners in the event of financial collapse or legal action. Incorporated institutions were meant to exist beyond the realm of personhood, not act on its behalf.

Moreover, the passing of the first amendment was intended to protect individuals from tyrannic rule by government; the courtroom logic that will likely play out here will place individuals under tyrannic rule by corporations. In either case, the opinions, beliefs, and values of the public become inconsequential.

Lastly, consider that the founders never considered free speech to be completely unlimited. If it were, the Constitution would not provide instances in which speech becomes criminal (i.e. treason) nor would there be similar situations in the practice of day-to-day law (i.e. perjury).

The sad news here is that we the people are probably fucked. According to The New Yorker, the Roberts Court almost always sides with industry:

In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.

I am not a believer in the idea that corporate America is evil, and I believe corporations deserve a fair shake in the legal system, but to consistently emerge the victor in the highest court in the land points to unfairness in a different direction. This matter is something about which we should all be particularly concerned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Intelligent (?) Design

I see the appeal of intelligent design, though it doesn't really make sense to me, at least insofar as I understand it, and although I have only a rudimentary understanding of Darwinian evolutionary theory, it seems more sound. That said, I'm always looking for information to fill the knowledge gaps I have, and recently I saw a NOVA special about both evolution and intelligent design that I found rather enlightening.

As a viewer, you knew going in which side was going to "win" in a science-based program like NOVA, but I felt like intelligent design had a fair chance to defend itself. It just didn't stack up to evolutionary theory.

Many people argue that intelligent design is a convenient repackaging of creationism, a point which I agree with but I feel is most certainly debatable. Sill, I would say intelligent design isn't about creationism in the same way Animal Farm isn't about Stalinist Russia. Orwell never says Napolean is Stalin or Snowball is Trotsky, but we all know the score; similarly, "intelligent design" could easily be "creation" and the "intelligent agent" behind it all could be "Creator" or "God."

Whether intelligent design constitutes religion is a huge issue concerning its potential to be taught in school sciences classes, but perhaps the more important one is whether it is even science. Let's turn to the dictionary, shall we:

science - the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena

Accordingly, for intelligent design to be science, it would have to meet the above criteria. In relation to intelligent design, one could make the argument that notions of irreducible complexity are based on observations that seek to describe and identify phenomena. However, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation are nowhere to be found.

Again, let's consult the old dictionary:

theory - a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena

Experimental investigation is based on falsifiable testing of a phenomena, and intelligent design cannot be tested. Since it cannot be tested it can never assume the status of theory. Period.

Intelligent design seems to have come about from a religious need to provide a counter to Darwinian evolution, even if that counter has no basis in science. The common critique of evolution is that it is "just a theory," as though it is some random idea that is accepted without questioning. Perhaps in the early stages that might have been a fair critique (probably not though), but over 150 years of repeated empirical testing through anthropological records and genetic experimentation have provided a large body of evidence for the validity of evolutionary theory. It has also been used as a successful model for prediction.

The bottom line is that theory is more than an idea; it is a body of work. Evolution meets this standard while intelligent design falls short, aiming only to debunk evolution and replace it with pseudoscience.

The problem is that intelligent design introduces the untestable supernatural element of an intelligent agent (i.e. God) aimed at purposeful creation. While this view could very well be true, it cannot be tested. Once the supernatural enters the debate, you've gone beyond the realm of science. To teach intelligent design in a science class would mean an expansion of the very principles that make science science.

I have no problem with the introduction of a scientific theory to counter evolution; if one exists (and I'm not aware of any that do, though there probably are some) then by all means, teach it. But intelligent design is not a scientific theory and should not be taught alongside evolution. That's a humanities course at best, but frankly I'd rather read the mythology that already exists. I see no need to add to it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why I hate the Democrats

The New York Times reported today that the public option for health care is on its deathbed. Most of this has come from an inability of the White House and the Democratically controlled Congress to lead the debate on the issue. If the Democratic majority cannot effectually push through legislation based on a unified agenda its control of American government will be short lived.

But what else would you expect from a party of pussies?

You won the election. You control all the elected branches of government. Your run the country. Those are the rules. Instead, the minority party and the Blue Dogs have pushed the progressive agenda -- the one for which the majority of the country voted -- to the side.

I just don't get it. In every other republic in the world the majority party dictates policy. We did it here during the Bush years, and idiotic and catastrophic as many of those policy decisions were, they made it through and shit got done -- stupid as it may have been.

But that was the one beautiful thing about the Bush years: ruthless efficiency. The answer to the opposing minority was, "Fuck you, we won." That's how democracy works. Individuals are elected based on an agenda (or at least they should be; regardless of the reason for which they are elected, there are always policy plans). If you win, you get to implement your agenda. If they work, or you can make people believe they work, you get to keep your job. If not, somebody else gets a turn, and how glorious is that?

The guy I voted for won. The policies that he supported -- many of which I liked -- won by extension, but are they being implemented. The answer is a resounding "No." The failing health care reform initiative, the legislation about which I am most concerned, is a prime example of my point.

The NYT article had the following to say: “I just want to figure out what works,” Mr. Obama said in March at a White House forum. If he could drive down health costs and expand coverage “entirely through the market,” he said, “I’d be happy to do it that way.” And “if there was a way of doing it that involved more government regulation and involvement, I’m happy to do it that way, as well,” he added.

Well, given the deregulation of the health care industry and the inability of the free market to control costs and increase efficiency, I'd say the latter is the best approach. Why a health care reform bill that includes a public option and stringent restraints can't be railroaded through is beyond me.

My belief is that it could pass easily, it simply won't, and the reason is the crippling concern about public opinion, not what is best for the public. Great leaders take the citizenry down a path its not ready for, a path that ultimately leads to something better. Mediocre leaders just try to keep their jobs, and that's what we've got now.

Again, according to the NYT, the Republican response to health care reform has been one of fear: Conservatives...see the public option as a step toward a single-payer system in which the government would pay most of the nation’s health care bill and could supplant private insurers.

Well, if Obama is right about finding something that works -- and he is -- who gives a shit if the insurance companies go under provided a single-payer system means better coverage?

I know, it's "socialist," and that's scary for whatever reason, but it's not an argument against a policy, it's fear mongering based on a loaded word. I wish that just once someone would just come out and say, "Yep, it's socialist. Why is that bad?" I don't think anyone would know what to say. I'm not sure most Americans even know what socialism means, especially the ones opposed to socialist ideas provided previous arguments are a good estimator.

In the same breath these ignorant lemmings -- who have been paraded around on TV by manipulative bastards -- are calling Obama a fascist and a communist. I don't think he's either, BUT YOU CAN'T FUCKING BE BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!!!

Sill any attempt at a progressive political agenda has to bow to these dumb ass swing voters who couldn't tell their asses from holes in the ground unless Hannity or Beck showed them the way. So I say to Obama, fuck these people, fuck their uninformed political agenda, and give me my goddamn health insurance. That's why I voted for you, and if you don't deliver, then the next guy will get a turn, and that's the irony of this whole mess.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Principle

I've always thought the term "in principle" to be an annoying dodge people use to avoid taking a stand, but as of late I've been (ironically) rethinking my stance. I feel it could just as easily be a way to maintain and defend a personal ideology while at the same time adapting to an ever-changing reality.

I guess what prompted this whole thought process has been the most prevalent political idea in my mind: health care reform. I can't say I'm surprised by the amount of emotion proposing such legislation evokes. Any government decision that deals so directly with life and death is bound to have critics, myself being one. While I don't feel we're taking progressive enough action (I favor a single-payer plan), many others think the government plans to go too far.

The result has led to me watching a lot of individuals beg for "their America back." The reality is "their America" never really existed. It's just a nostalgic longing for a past in which, given their youth, these individuals were too naive to notice the corruption and problems that existed during the time. The baby boomer America consisted of Watergate, political assassinations, sanctioned racism, Vietnam, and a ton of other negative things. I do not mean to say that "their America" was any worse than the one we live in now, but how much better could it have really been?

The thing I find most surprising is how willing people are to cling to an ideology even if it leads to their downfall. Yes, America is founded on principles of capitalism and we have a mean libertarian streak in us. Is it best to let "the market" regulate the practices of business and by extension numerous aspects of our personal lives? Yes, in principle.

I don't want the government in my business anymore than they need to be. I don't think the government has the right to tell me when and where I can smoke a cigarette, to regulate marijuana and other drugs so strictly, to make judgments about profane content via the FCC, to violate my privacy through domestic spying, to suspend habeas corpus en mass, or to do a host of other things.

However, this principle falls apart in that there are numerous things I would like the government to run (and tax its citizens to do so): public roads, libraries, police forces, fire departments, public schools, the military, utilities, and HEALTH CARE. The reason being is that, in a privatized business model, responsibility to investors to turn consistently higher profits leads to cuts in the quality of service in order to increase revenue, particularly if competitors are few and services and price are similar among them.

Health care is essential to a high quality of life and should be available to everyone at the cost of everyone. Problem is this view doesn't mesh well with traditional American ideals. It doesn't mesh well with some of my principles either, but their comes a point when defending a principle only leads to shooting yourself in the foot, and God forbid you do that because it will cost too much damn money to go to the doctor and get that treated, leaving you bankrupt financially, though perhaps not ideologically. At least you'll have your principles, but is it worth it?

I'm reminded of a short essay written by George Orwell, I believe. In it, he argues that societies are built around revolution, but that revolution never creates a situation for advancing the lower class. Instead, the middle class merely deceitfully offers advancement to the lower class in exchange for aiding in toppling the aristocracy. The lower class then discovers that the middle and upper classes have simply switched places.

I feel like much of the political scene now is very different. Out of fear that abandoning the commonly asserted ideal (or myth) that is America will lead the middle class into poverty, the middle class is deceived by an elite few in the upper class into fighting its own interests, and all out of principle. Rather than working with the lower class to stand a fighting chance against powerful interests, the middle class is being eroded all in the name of principle. Health care is just the most recent example. Environmentalists could make similar arguments, as could economists concerning the bail outs, or even accountant when one considers the death (estate) tax reform.

I don't stand on either the right or left; I'm an issue to issue guy. I try to follow a libertarian ideology because I feel granting citizens greater freedom is generally the best thing to do. But not always. For certain things freedom causes chaos and suffering, which has been the case for health care, and it has all been for a principle that probably couldn't be identified by most who suffer in its name.