Saturday, May 11, 2013

Let Me Participate!

You've heard it said, "we are the government."  A representative democracy has the task of electing its officials to make decisions on their behalf.  According to NBC News, President Obama at a recent 2013 Ohio University Commencement called for "full time citizens" and pleaded for less "cynicism" regarding our government.  He advised "we" (being the people), have great authority (Source).    We do have great authority as we elect officials, help campaign, vote, and generally participate in a democratic process.  Right?

Although the president's call for participation and exercise of authority sounded very high minded, what authority do we have?  Over the years, a number of measures have been passed to protect "sensitive" information including the: Espionage Act of 1917, Atmoic Energy Act of 1954, and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (Source 2).   The Acts all centered around the protection of information that if discovered by foreign governments would cause great harm to US interests. 

Fast forward to today, where there are hundreds of thousands of classified documents, and the vast majority of them are not protecting personal names, strategic locations, or WMD construction information.  If you believe this to be conspiratory, read through some of the documents leaked by Private Bradley Manning, or the Nixon cover up, or most importantly, the leaked "Pentagon Papers" when the government knew the Vietnam war was not winnable a decade before it ended.

It becomes apparent pretty quickly that our government is and has been classifying information from us for a long time, and that they are afraid of us knowing things.  On May 4, 2013, writer for "The Guardian," Glenn Greenwald, did a fantastic piece on former counter terrorism agent, Tim Clemente, who appeared with Erin Burnett on CNN . 

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It's not a voice mail. It's just a conversation. There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?
CLEMENTE: "No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.
BURNETT: "So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.
CLEMENTE: "No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not. (Source 3)"
The implications here seem pretty clear.  Although the government tracks what average citizens are saying on a day to day basis, we are not allowed to know when "embarassing" things happen within government.  This raises a couple of important questions.  What authority do we then have Mr. President?  We don't know what the government is doing, you won't tell us, but you know what we're doing.  Secondly, if we don't know what our government is doing, how do we know that our elected our officials aren't doing anything nefarious?  If we shouldn't be as cynical about our government being tyranical, give us reason to believe differently.

The president isn't doing anything different than presidents in the past, but we can't have it both ways.  The government either needs to be more transparent when it comes to "non-sensitive" information, even information that is damaging to the governments reputation. If this doesn't happen, we are no longer able to participate in government.  We can't be "full time citizens." 

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Safety, Terrorism, and the Costs

You've heard it already right?  New surveillance legislation surfacing from every wing of the political aisle.  More cameras, drones, and oversight for the safety and security of everyone.  The broad powers granted by the Patriot Act post 9/11 are no longer sufficient, we need more. Living in today's world is just far more dangerous than anything we've encountered previously, so we need this.

People will give up any amount of freedom, money, and convenience for saftey.  What if you could legislate away the entire Constitution and turn us into a surveillance state?  Certainly after giving up all of that we would be safe, right?

I think the answer is a resounding, "no!"  Everywhere its been tried, loss of freedom has created its own political dissidents, and its own terrorism.  Russia, China, European Countries, they all have systems far more closed than ours, yet terrorism persists.  If abolishing the Constitution and shifting toward a surveillance state can't abolish terrorism, what should be our response?

What is it that a terrorist seeks to accomplish?  Whatever the various motivations and reasons, they have a common thread, changing our way of life.  If we did nothing in response to an attack, it would defeat the purpose of the attack.  However, if it instills fear and changes how we live day to day, they have achieved something great.  After all, its human nature to react when hurt.  However, we may need to ask ourselves a different set of questions.  Our reaction may be natural, but is it helping or hurting ourselves?

Also, if we pass additional legislation with each attack, at what point is privacy non-existant?  If the answer is yes, its worth it, and we're okay with the type of society we are morphing into, fine.  However, let's have the conversation and not pretend this is anything short of what it is, a transition to a different type of society, and that being one we probably can't change back.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Disappointing Field?

With a Republican caucus and a primary behind us in 2012, what have we learned? Well, to be honest, nothing significant. Although we've probably deciphered that its Romney's nomination to lose, the race is far from over. After all, we've got almost 5 months to mull over these candidates (though the winner is usually clear before then.)

I spent my first half of January listening to political podcasts, tracking poll numbers, nabbing bits and pieces of live stream debates, and of course watching the prcincts report in for the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. At first I was filled with excitement for each contest, and I had felt wonder concerning the destination.

Today, I'm not so optimistic. Front runner Romney has his views while running for the nomination, then a slightly different stance for the general election, and finally a new perspective altogether if he were to be elected president. Romney demonstrated this confusing dichotomy in New Hampshire when stating that he would usher in a "smaller and smarter government," and then immediately after said we would have a military unchallengable in the world. I think that accurately illustrates the difficulty in knowing anything about Romney.

While Newt Gingrich is interesting to me, he carries a good deal of baggage and then stops to heap on more every day. The public has had decades to carefully mull over his voting record, lobbying, personal missteps, and also his day to day gaffes. However, he's intelligent, and there's noone I would rather listen to debate. Although oratory isn't everything, its a powerful tool when running for president, and one the current president uses well. Winning the general election will undoubtedly require someone who can command debates when the time comes.

Santorum and Perry seem hardly worth mentioning as the first wants to continually show America's power to the world while outlawing homosexual acts. Santorum also made a campaign pledge to go to war with Iran. Although war with Iran may prove inevitable, I've never heard of a candidate promising to go to war as part of a campaign pledge. The latter, Mr. Perry, wants to re-invade Iraq. Yes, you did read that right, re-invade Iraq.

Last, but not least, is the ideologically consistent representative Ron Paul. Paul is smart, educated, honest, and probably the only true conservative that would slash the federal deficit in a way that matters (I say this because no other GOP candidate will touch defense.) Although Ron Paul is respected and consistent, he is not a good orator. Paul's ideas are often difficult to summarize, and when given 30 to 60 seconds to describe his position in a debate, he often falters and doesn't resonate with the public.

Although polls show Paul matching up relatively closely against Obama in a general election, it is impossible to know how those numbers would look after the two sparred in a number of debates. It would be foolish to not concede the advantage to Obama on this one. Regardless of whether you agree with Ron Paul or not, few can argue that a Ron Paul nomination would be one of the most interesting election years in history.

Although every candidate has flaws, its hard to not see the current field as being weak. One wonders if a president with 8 or 9 percent unemployment and a skyrocketing deficit would have had a chance at reelection in any other election cycle. Many fiscal conservatives like myself are terrified of what another Obama presidency would mean for a 15 trillion dollar deficit on the verge of multiplying. One step should be taken at a time, and that first step is to choose the right nominee. Let's choose carefully.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Libertarianism to me

The upcoming Iowa Caucus is, as always, generating a good deal of media attention. People are eager to see who Obama's challenger will be. Although we have presidential elections every four years, it feels different as of late. Maybe we feel like we all have more at stake now with an economy slowing to a mere crawl? Or it could be the erosion of many civil liberties in just a short decade. Whatever it is, people are interested.

In the last two weeks, a number of people have approached me to ask which Republican candidate I like for president. When to their surprise I utter Ron Paul's name, they tend to give me the same kinds of responses. "He's good and honest but so extreme." Or else they'll say, "I like his fiscal sense but his foreign policy is just outdated."

Now, I'm not writing this to defend my candidate of choice, but rather to simply talk about my personal brand of libertarianism. After all, any candidate I support, I support with some reservations and some difference of opinion. The only candidate who will agree with everything you believe is yourself.

However, I consider myself to be somewhat Libertarian in my beliefs, and I'll even use the term to describe myself. To some, Libertarian means extreme isolationism. To others its a fiscally conservative philosophy that is also socially liberal. Other's view it as an anarchist philosophy that desires no law or order (drug legalization is often associated with this.)

As is the problem with many labels, a word by itself doesn't always capture that entire perspective. In fact libertarianism in itself probably has the most diverse following of any major American political perspective. I'm just going to tell you what it means to me.

To me, in simple terms, it is the ideal of using government in a way that maximizes freedom and protects liberty to the full extent possible (particularly those freedoms outlined in the Constitution.) This means that although I may personally disagree with something socially, I may still want the government to protect someone's right to do that. I say this because choice is not only important to a libertarian, but important to any free society. Without choice, freedom does not exist.

Appreciating choice, I support other nation's having the opportunity to choose and be free. This doesn't however lead me to an isolationist perspective, but simply one that is "less interventionist." Especially at the grass roots level, the people of a nation have to embrace choice for themselves. After all, if we would have asked ourselves what we could have learned from past foreign endeavors, we would already be traveling down this path of less intervention. From Korea, to Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, one would have thought we would have learned something about intervention.

If I've learned one thing concerning foreign policy from my government, its that long war campaigns not only wary a country financially and emotionally, but the inevitable prolonged collateral damage emboldens and multiplies your enemiees against you.

In very simple terms, this summarizes my Libertarian perspective. However, how philosophy breaks down into specific policies is case by case and a conversation for a different day. If you ever want to discuss more specifically, feel free to leave comments and I will respond.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

At Work: Merry Christmas or Not?

Its been a little while since I've posted a blog, in fact, its been a long while. Now, I work for an online bank and take a large number of calls on any given day. One such day was Christmas Eve this year.

Now, I'm not one of those people who hesitate to say Merry Christmas on my own time. In fact, I understand that the vast majority of American citizens celebrate Christmas over Hannukah or any other Christmas time celebration. However, I wasn't answering calls at home, I was at work representing the bank. I also understand that there are a fair number of people who use our bank who likely celebrate Hannukah, or no holiday at all.

Now, I chose to wish people the best of weekends, and if they wished me a Merry Christmas, I returned the greeting. If they wished me a happy holidays, I returned that greeting. Frankly, I let the customer decide how I would represent the holidays.

Although I understand that the same groups who are angry about xmas over Christmas, or happy holidays over merry christmas are going to be upset about a decision like that, that's fine. Honestly, the same people who are upset about xmas over christmas also incorporate santa clause and Christmas trees which ultimately have nothing to do with Christmas either.

No, I'm asking those of you who have a slightly open mind on the topic. How do you handle situations like that at work? Do you let the customer or client decide, or do you decide for them? I'm sure people have a plethora of opinions on the subject and I'd love to hear them. Let me know.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reason, Faith, or Both?

You know that feeling of being torn?  Its one of those moments where you believe two things to be true or valid, but you just aren't sure how they fit together.  Our world views are important, so its imperative to examine them and evolve them when necessary. 

I've been having one of those moments as it pertains to faith, reason, and politics.  Reason and observation tell me that Minnesota (my home state) spends 37% of its general budget on welfare services.  This is a higher percentage than any other state in the country.  Observing people abuse this, I've witnessed what was once a safety net be transformed into  a hammock.  Subsidized housing, energy, food, and even cash are now a permanent fixture in many people's budget. 

What about the wealthy?  Is it fair to tax a higher rate based on "ability to pay?"  What amount is fair?  Is it 50, 60, 70, or even 90 percent of ones income beyond a certain point?  This brings the question that if its not willfully done, is it stealing to take from one segment of a population to give to another?    

I've heard many people of faith, some of whom I respect say that these are good things.  At times I have wondered myself if supporting this was something a person of faith should desire.  Is a nanny welfare state in the interests of my faith?  Does the outcome matter if the spirit of giving and self sacrifice are present? 

Its probably no secret to you, but I enjoy the works of Ayn Rand.  Being an outspoken atheist, by reason alone, she arrived at the significance of liberty.  Her philosophy essentially said that if men have equal value, government should not punish one segment to reward another.  Man should rise and fall according to his ability.  He should not sacrifice himself for another who is of no greater or lesser value than himself. 

Now, that being said, there are limits to Rand's philosophy.  Rand encouraged charity, but I don't think that encouragement would be very effective with her world view.  Although she effectively addressed many of the economic and social problems of a welfare state, her philosophy doesn't truly inspire personal charity and the reward to be found in it. 

As I continued to think on it, it became apparent to me that both faith and reason have a part to play in this. 
"faith without reason (religious fanaticism) and reason without faith (secularism leading to materialism) are dangerous paths for humanity.". --Pope Benedict XVI
 Faith addresses problems that government never could.  A person going to their family, church, or community and asking for help cannot happen within the government.  Within government, programs are created and budgets are allocated.  Money alone cannot alter the mindset of a person, but charity can.

Rand is right to think that government cannot fulfill this function.  However, she underestimates the significance of faith.  Faith empowers people to give of themselves in a way that is both discerning (reason) and focuses on the needs of the individual. 

People of faith, have at times embraced the welfare state out of a sense of compassion.  However, compassion must be accompanied by reason.  A welfare state only grows because it does not have the power to transform people's lives.  Although it has the power to meet immediate needs, it has left our poor and needy unwilling to go to "people" for help.  Over time, this is debilitating to the individual. 

Although the heart matters, we cannot and should not ignore outcomes.  The results of our actions matter, and we should continually be learning from those things.  I say, let our hearts be filled with all the good things the Lord has bestowed upon us, but when we act, let our actions be reasonable.  Lets consider the outcome. 

If you have a different opinion, I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to comment at the bottom of the page.  Thanks!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sports Too Important?

Is the importance of sports crippling us? Entering the break room at work, ESPN can always be heard.  Men huddle together to discuss recent box scores and fantasy numbers.  Some people even schedule work around games. 

Flip on the news and you will find that prime time coverage goes to local sports teams and players.  Although the country faces a debt crisis, the disintegration of liberties, and a corrupt/stagnant political system, networks still love to cover sports.  Who can blame them?  Its lucrative and promotes the networks that broadcast the games.  Furthermore, people are entranced with sports!  

Don't get me wrong, I love sports.  Although the baseball season is long, I grew up listening to the majority of my favorite team's games every year.  No one loved the local baseball team more than I.  Getting satellite TV in high school was a dream come true for a sports fanatic like myself.  However, something happened to me after that. 

I began to grow up.  Developing concerns for civic responsibility, my church, and my family began to take root.  Although I still loved sports, devoting energy and time to other priorities forced me to disengage from sports a little.  I consider it maturing or growing. 

However, as I look to many of my peers, I see in them the same enthusiasm for sports that I had as a kid.  Sadly, some of my peers never seem to discuss anything significant at all.  I am slightly concerned I may be misunderstood on this topic.  Recreation and entertainment can be healthy distractions when the challenges of life weigh too heavy.  However, no distraction should be permanent.  Entertainment ought to be something that enhances our lives, but not something that drives it. 

The recent Vancouver riots after the final game of the Stanley Cup are a current and vivid illustration of sports being taken out of perspective.  Recent sports related riots also include the cities of Los Angeles, Denver, and Boston (Source).  It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the valuable lessons sports once existed to teach us are much harder to find.  Perspective has been lost. 

Taxpayer funded stadiums are built for teams so that more money can be collected by the league, the owners, and the players.  However, there is little to no economic benefit for the taxpayer.  Taxes collected should provide a specific service to all those paying in.  This is not the case with publicly funded stadiums.  Even if you choose not to participate in sports,  most states force you to fund stadiums and thus subsidize the industry.  Player contracts and owner's revenues can stay at the current and staggering levels thanks to publicly funded stadiums. 

However, more concerning is what we fail to observe while continually being "entertained."  My blog has previously focused on the gradual corruption creeping into government.  Corruption is becoming an enormous problem and probably most notably at the executive level.  While these problems were growing, did we take to the streets through peaceful demonstrations and protests?  Did we rebuke our public officials and demand accountability?  No, we have been contented with our distractions. 

Sports are not innately evil.  Lets simply keep them in perspective.  They are recreation, entertainment, and a temporary distraction in life.  They are games meant to teach us to win and lose with grace.  Let's take some time to focus on the things that are truly important.