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Red Flags

Red Flags

At some point “socialist” became a dirty word in this country. You get tarred with it and you’re regarded with some suspicion and downright hostility. I suppose there are some mitigating circumstances for this; after all, it was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was the National Socialist German Workers Party whose German name became shortened to Nazi. Neither one of them distinguished themselves for their humanitarianism.

A lot of Americans think of socialism as being the next step to communism in the same way marijuana leads to, in their minds, harder drugs. Yes, it’s a gateway economic philosophy. The next thing you’re calling everyone comrade and abolishing religion.

The truth is that there are all sorts of types of socialism just like there are many different types of capitalism. There’s hardcore socialism in which the state owns all businesses (which is essentially the last step before full-blown communism) and then there’s social democracy in which the state provides social services (i.e. health care, postal and phone services, television networks and so on) while business remains privatized. This seems to be the most successful socialist system to my mind with Sweden and Canada both practicing it and having robust economies. It is also the direction China is trying to move in to a large degree albeit without the democracy portion.

I have rapidly begun to move in that direction myself. And yes I was like a lot of you who grew up thinking socialism was a bad thing. My father preached it to me. As a refugee from Cuba, he had particular reason not to have any love for a system that to his mind had betrayed his homeland and exchanged one dictatorship for another. He married a woman whose grandfather had fled Russia (or more accurately, the Ukraine which was part of Russia at the time) because of a communist takeover there. I grew up in a household in which there was personal experience with countries that had suffered through a conversion from capitalism to communism (or more to the point from a despotic monarchy to something more despotic). Needless to say my attitude towards anything socialistic was to say the least hostile.

But as I grew up, it soon became apparent that capitalism is far from perfect. There are far too many opportunities for abuse. While I agree it is the least objectionable to most economic philosophies, I don’t worship at its altar the way some do. I also don’t believe it can’t be improved upon.

I have come to change my philosophy about government as well. My dad had always had tendencies towards anarchy – no government whatsoever. He also understood that there were certain basic services that only a government could provide – an infrastructure for business to be conducted, education so that the country could remain competitive and innovative, a military to protect the citizenry from foreign and domestic threats – and that those services needed to be paid for through taxation. My father didn’t object to paying taxes, but he thought taxes should be lower because the services a government should provide should be less. My father didn’t believe in safety nets.

It wasn’t until after he passed away that I began to question my long-held beliefs. I’d always felt that there had been a discrepancy in them. I’d always felt vaguely uncomfortable that backing conservative precepts and the Republican party was potentially wrong. I always wondered if it was the liberals and the Democrats who weren’t exercising the compassion I longed to see in government.

It was the second Bush administration that finally woke me up. I saw a conservative government that was trampling on the constitutional rights of its people willy-nilly and using terrorism as an excuse to do that very thing. I saw an administration that believed in torture as a legitimate means of fighting its war on terror. I saw a government whose allegiance was to the wealthy and whose attitude towards the poor was that they existed to provide cheap labor for businesses whose sole existence was to provide wealth for their owners. I watched business, whose watchdogs were systematically dismantled and deregulated, take an economy that had been leading the world and bring it down into the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

I realized then that government had different responsibilities than I had always believed. While yes, I still believe that government should interfere in the lives of its citizens as little as possible, it has the responsibility to provide its citizens with the opportunities to pursue success as well. It has always been our common belief that in America, anyone can achieve success if they are willing to work hard and be innovative. The truth is that success now is mostly inherited; small companies face a terrible uphill climb to become successful and the people who create and invent are rarely the people who profit from their creations and inventions no matter how hard they work – often it is the financiers who reap the benefits. Legal recourse shouldn’t be the sole domain of the wealthy.

Neither should health care be. We define the basic rights of every individual of this country as those quoted in the Declaration of Independence – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what defines those things? To me, good health is a necessary component. Nobody should be forced to endure sickness and disease because they can’t afford to see a doctor.

That doesn’t mean I believe in Obamacare. Actually I believe in something far more radical – socialized medicine. I believe America should have a system like France, Canada, Denmark – heck what most of the world enjoys. There are those who point at long waits for physician visits in those countries to which I say that they are no longer than those who wait for months to see a specialist here. I also don’t think medicine should be a for-profit business and that medical insurance should be rendered unnecessary.

There are those who will disagree. There are those who think that medicine like everything else should be on the free market system. You’re wrong. Your health care should not be based on how profitable your care is or is not. You deserve better than the lowest common denominator of health care. If you’re going to pay your entire life into a system, that system should not then deny you the care your physician prescribes based on expense.

I find it ludicrous that the people who complain that government is too inept and bureaucratic to administrate your health care don’t seem to find it too inept and bureaucratic to administer your defense. I also find it that those people who complain about social welfare programs aren’t above obtaining government grants to help them go to college, or start a business or aid their business when it needs it. Apparently the government should only give aid to those who deserve it.

I believe the government should give aid to those who need it. Are there abuses in the social welfare system? You bet. There are also abuses in the military, in religious institutions, educational facilities basically anywhere you find humans. That’s what we do. We find loopholes and take advantage of them.

That doesn’t mean we should deny the millions of people who need help – the single moms, the disabled who are unable to work, the children who have been abandoned by their parents – and who don’t take undue advantage of the system. Those who take advantage should be punished on an individual basis. An entire social strata shouldn’t be punished because they need help.

Yes, I am a socialist in many respects. I believe that a government should behave with compassion towards the less fortunate. I believe that a government should encourage innovation and excellence and give those people the opportunity through low-interest small business loans to grow their businesses which can then become economic engines for that country – investments into that government’s own future prosperity, you might say. I believe that the role of government is to defend its people but not just from foreign governments and terrorists – but from rapacious businesses who choose to use their wealth to intimidate and defraud those who can’t afford to fight back. From health crises that would incapacitate a productive member of society. From hunger and want. Nobody in a country as prosperous as ours should ever go hungry.

I no longer care if I’m labeled a radical for believing in those things. So be it. I am tired of people being more concerned with their wallets than the welfare of others. I am tired of greed trumping compassion. It’s time to raise the red flag and say there’s something wrong here. It needs to change. We need to change. We deserve to have the best lives possible. We deserve opportunity and safety. In short, we deserve the American dream that the founding fathers always saw this country providing. And it’s time to stop saying we believe in Christian values and start acting on them. IF Jesus were alive today, he’d be a socialist. Don’t think so? He shared everything among his disciples. They lived in a socialist system, one far more extreme than the one I’m advocating. He healed the sick without requiring them to pay anything. He fed the hungry and helped the poor. Quite the radical, this Jesus.

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Common Threads

We are more like than unalike. We have so much in common that we actually take it for granted. We dwell instead on cultural differences, lifestyle differences, gender differences. We spend more time looking for the things that divide us than we do celebrating the things that unite us.

I suppose that’s only human. We have a need to feel unique and we look for ways that emphasize our uniqueness. Unfortunately, we tend to do that the lazy way – by asserting that those who are different than us are inferior, making us feel better about ourselves and our many faults.

Being unique doesn’t make us better. It just makes us ourselves. We’re not perfect – but we don’t have to be. Honestly, it’s okay to be flawed. You’re overweight? That’s okay – just try to eat better and exercise more. You’re a terrible housekeeper? No problem – hire somebody or just do the best you can. No time management skills? You can always take a class or find methods on the internet to help you organize your time better.

But even if you don’t ever correct your flaws that doesn’t make you a bad or even a weak person. It just makes you a human. And that’s one thing we all have in common – our humanity, both good and bad. We have a tremendous capacity to do horrible things to one another – and an equally tremendous capacity to transcend those base instincts and do the right thing, or even better.

The genocide in Rwanda is one such example. On the one hand, horrible atrocities were committed and thousands upon thousands of lives were brutally lost. On the other hand, the Rwandans are now trying to unite, reconcile and forgive one another. They are looking to live as one people rather than two artificially constructed tribes. They share a common language and a common heritage. More importantly, they share their basic human values – they love their families, hope for a better future and want to be loved.

We all share those values, even those we despise. The 1% share those things. Racists share those things. Homophobes share those things. Now, there are always exceptions; certain sociopaths lack the ability to love, the desire to be loved and have instead a desire to inflict pain. Those are not the rule, however and they are pretty rare.

Our humanity stretches across cultural lines. We all value our children and take great steps to protect them. That’s true in the most primitive circumstances as well as the most sophisticated urban environments. It doesn’t matter your skin tone or which plumbing you have, nor which religion you observe (if any) or what political party you belong to. Push comes to shove, nearly every human being alive will do about anything to protect their children, even lay down their lives if need be.

So why is it when we have so much in common that we spend so much time trying to tear each other apart? Not just in this country but everywhere? Why can Arabs and Jews find any common ground? Why not gays and straights? Baptists and Atheists? Why must we find reasons to ridicule, to fear, to hate? Why is accepting the differences of others so bloody hard?

Because we have it in our minds that accepting the differences of someone else makes us somehow less important, less special. That’s a mistaken concept however; accepting those differences makes us more special. It gives us more importance in the cosmic scheme of things. It brings us closer to perfection. If someone is a black lesbian Atheist pro-Choice from Senegal, I believe that in the heart of the creator I believe in they are no less loved than a pro-Life Baptist housewife from Texas. And vice versa. Those who disagree with me, are different than me, are even repugnant to me are still as human as me. As long as they do no harm, they deserve all the respect and dignity that I can afford them.

Delivering on that idea is often difficult and I’m no more adept at it than most of you. Sometimes, I gnash my teeth when I hear Sarah Palin talk about the need for drilling, or the President of Iran shouting about how America is Satanic. There are times I find it hard to hold to my heart those who discriminate against women, gays, African-Americans or Jews.

But if God loves these people no less, doesn’t following that example please Him? There are lots of people who say “Love the sinner, hate the sin” and while we might quibble whether homosexuality is a sin or not, the sentiment is at least understandable although it’s very difficult for me to hate the sin. Loving the person while not condoning their actions is easier for me to wrap my head and heart around and that’s where I tend to be more successful.

I may consider Rush Limbaugh to be a lot of things and I disagree with his politics and most of his opinions whole-heartedly but I don’t hate the man and I certainly don’t think he shouldn’t have the right to air his opinions. After all, you have the right to change the channel if you don’t like what he has to say and sooner or later if enough people do that he will have to find other means to communicate his message. I also consider Bill Maher to be a lot of things and I agree with his politics and most of his opinions whole-heartedly, but on a human level I give Rush Limbaugh the same consideration and respect I give Bill Maher, even if I think Maher is smarter and his politics more closely align with mine. That’s because at the end of the day Bill Maher is no better and no worse than Rush Limbaugh, the same as George W. Bush is no better and no worse than Barack Obama or my Uncle Jerry is no better and no worse than my Uncle Alex.

We are all made up of the same chemical components, the same physiological structure. We all travel through time in a linear fashion, from the beginning of lives to their ends and we all hope and dream of something better or at least different. We all reach out in some way for the things we need, be they other people or solitude. We all walk the Earth – some in wheelchairs, some in scooters but we all travel this land in some fashion. We all laugh, cry, despair and hope. We all have the capacity for love and for forgiveness as well as for hate and for vengeance. We all have the ability to choose the right thing, although we don’t always do it.

We all are one species, given one lifetime to figure things out. How much better would this world be if one of the things we figured out was just that? What could we accomplish as a people if we spent more time helping each other instead of finding reasons to hate? There is a dream worth aspiring to, one voiced by many of our most revered and beloved people, from Martin Luther King to Gandhi to Christ. A dream where we live together not in suspicion, fear and hatred but in acceptance, love and tolerance. Rodney King may not be the kind of thinker those men are but he may have put it the most articulately; can’t we all just get along? Well, can’t we?

Attitudes and Latitudes

I lived most of my life in California. It is nicknamed the Golden State for good reason – nearly perfect climate, plenty of sunshine, great agriculture, great industry, the best of everything. It has also been horribly mismanaged and its state government is in big trouble, economically speaking.

That’s neither here nor there because this isn’t about California. It’s about Florida, the state I currently live in. We moved here in 1998, the same year we got married and have lived in the same house since 2001. It’s an older house (and by “older” I mean it was built in the 80s…old is relative in the U.S.) that looks out into woods from my back window. In the mornings, I sometimes like to stare outside and watch the squirrels, lizards and birds do their thing in our yard. It’s a good life.

People have some different visions of Florida in their minds and I confess, I had my own images before I moved here. Many people see the Sunshine State as wall-to-wall theme parks and tourist attractions and I admit we have an abundance of those. Some see Florida as a haven for retirees from the Northeast and I admit we also have an abundance of those as well.

Florida is much more complicated than either stereotype, although there’s accuracy in both of them. Yes, we are a family friendly vacationland that also has its share of retirees. Certainly as much of the Northeast digs through the worst winter in decades, our mild winter would in all likelihood seem very attractive to someone who has done one winter too many of shoveling snow.

This brings to mind our summers. Florida is sub-tropical, which means plenty of humidity and lots of heat. Orlando, which is the major city nearest me, has plenty of days where the temperature tops 90F and the humidity 90%. At the same time. Think of it this way; Norwegians love their saunas but I don’t suppose many of them would want to live in one; that’s pretty much what Florida is like in the summertime. We go from air conditioned homes to air conditioned cars to air conditioned offices, then shop in air conditioned stores and eat in air conditioned restaurants.

Eating out is more common here because nobody wants to cook in the summer time. Heats up the house too much, not to mention any sort of exertion outdoors will get your sweat glands working overtime. Florida natives and those who have been here longer than I have seem to have developed an immunity to it, and a greater tolerance for the heat and humidity but Da Queen and I have yet to adapt. I suppose we would if we lived here the rest of our lives but I’m not sure we will.

It’s not that we don’t love Florida – there’s a lot to love about it, but we miss seasons. There’s none of that here; it’s hot and humid, or hot and dry and briefly during the winter months, cool and somewhat dry. There is no autumn and there is no winter; there’s no spring either, just endless days of summer. There’s much to be said for that and if I’m completely honest, there are seasons – they’re just much more subtle than you see in the Northeast and the Midwest. You don’t have the changing leaves and the budding flowers. I’m sure native Floridians would be able to point out these subtleties to me but I’m afraid I haven’t been observant enough to catch them yet.

The summers can be pretty brutal here, which is why much of the population flees – we call them Snowbirds here. When the weather starts to turn elsewhere in the country, the Snowbirds take wing and flock to sunny Florida. I don’t know that I’d want perfect weather all the time; a little rain, a little snow, a little sun – all are welcome.

Florida is also home to the Everglades, one of the world’s unique eco-systems. While eco-tourists flock to Costa Rica to ride on zip-lines through the jungle and hike through the underbrush of the rain forests, Florida really hasn’t done much to promote eco-tourism here and frankly, there’s a lot of potential for it here. And no, I’m not talking about those damn airboats that go skittering through the swamps on jet engines. Those are for NASCAR fans who love to screech “YEEEEHAWWWWW!” while munching on pork rinds. And yes, we have an abundance of that sort too.

What we really have an abundance of is plant life and animal life. I have never seen as many different critters anywhere as I have here. From my backyard I’ve seen rabbits, tree frogs, peacocks, squirrels, geckos, blue jays, robins, enoli and peregrine falcons. Elsewhere within a short distance of my home I’ve seen tortoises, armadillos, raccoons, deer, great blue herons, ducks, possums, geese, cranes, owls, turkey vultures, gophers and, of course, alligators. Yes, there is an abundance of those too – in nearly every standing body of water there’s at least one. Swimming in ponds and lakes here can be dicey, although they tend to stay away from people as much as they can.

There is also an abundance of insect life here, unfortunately. They range from merely annoying to downright deadly. We have palmetto bugs (which are sort of like cockroaches on steroids), noseeums (which are tiny little biting insects which leave incredibly potent bites) and fire ants which if you step in them in bare feet or sandals can give you quite a bit of pain. There are also banana spiders (hideous spiders that spin their webs in trees and drop upon the unwary who walk underneath them)  and love bugs, annoying flying insects that mate in mid-air and secrete a fluid that damages car finishes when they mate; during mating season one can walk and/or drive through swarms of them.

Unfortunately, the humidity has an additional annoying effect; things rot. De-humidifiers are a necessity here. Fruit left out can rot in a matter of days; sometimes hours if your house isn’t cooled down enough. Bread grows mold within a week, even inside plastic.

The people of Florida are mostly a conservative bunch, although there are plenty of people here who believe as I do. Some remember, with a rather critical eye, that this is the state that gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. There is a significant population of Southern Baptists and conservative Christians; you never forget for an instance that this is called the Bible Belt for a reason.

One thing I find interesting about Florida is that it’s not considered part of the South, even though we are the southernmost state in the continental United States with Key West southernmost point. In many ways, we are our own region; we are nothing like Georgia/Mississippi/Alabama/Tennessee/the Carolinas, considered by most to be the “true South.” Southern accents are pretty rare here. Southern gentility is much more common in Alabama and Mississippi than here. We’re far more casual; more Jimmy Buffett than Johnny Reb.

That’s not to say we’re not genteel or mannered either – we have our share of Belles here, even if Cypress Gardens is closed (and about to be converted to be the newest Legoland). Still, boat culture is popular on the coasts and here inland, we’re more of a generic suburban and rural culture. There are a lot of really nice people here too – Da Queen and I have friends who are extremely precious to us, some met through work and others through Facebook and other social networks. Our mothers both live here, hers before we moved here, mine after. Never underestimate the importance of family in linking you to a place.

As much as we love Florida, the summers are too much for us. We will eventually retire to the area around Asheville, North Carolina – the Blue Ridge speaks to us and the climate is perfect. Da Queen, who grew up in Colorado, misses mountains and the climate there. It’s not an indictment of Florida – it’s simply more of a preference for a place that touches us. Still, Florida is part of who we are; a little bit of the Sunshine State will always be in my soul. I may not be the person who “gets” Florida the best but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it in my own way. Besides, living near Orlando gives friends and family an excuse to visit – look me up when you’re coming to the theme parks, okay?

Grand Old Hypocrisy

The elections are over and there is no doubt the American electorate has made its voice heard. The truth of it is that the voice of the American electorate has become a whining squeal of self-interest, whipped into a frenzy by Republican and Tea Party claims that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for higher taxes, increased debt and lost jobs. “A vote for the Democrats is a vote for Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. It is a vote for socialism and Sharia law.”

This past mid-term election was notable for its vitriol and its surfeit of advertising. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that $858 million was raised by Republican candidates for House and Senate campaign ads, while the Democrats raised $759 million. This doesn’t include State gubernatorial elections or money spent on ballot propositions which were often just as contentious. That means that over $1.6 billion was spent on getting people elected to Congress, and when the whole bill is tallied, that number moves well north of $3 billion.  Now that’s just an estimate and the number could well be higher or lower, but either way that could fund a whole lot of jobs, people.

Politically speaking, I’m a reformed Republican. I supported Reagan back in the day and Bush senior. I felt very strongly that the Republicans reflected middle class values and were the party that looked out for the middle class. The Democrats, on the other hand, I believed were the party of special interests and of sinecures and pork barrels. I got these attitudes basically from my Dad, who was a staunch conservative – he had been an anarchist in his youth and believed that the definition of a good government was a government that stayed out of the people’s lives as much as possible. In many ways, I believe he’s right.

I no longer believe those things. While I don’t have great love for the Democrats, I think the Republicans have changed a great deal. I believe that their entire interest now is not only in keeping the wealth in the hands of the wealthy, but finding ways to increase that wealth, even at the expense of what’s best for the nation. I look at the presidency of George W. Bush and I’m appalled at what he did; the trampling of the Constitution in the name of Homeland Security. Allowing the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Gharib. And, lest we forget, the economic meltdown that occurred on his watch – one that came about because of the economic advisors he’d appointed putting their own selfish financial gains at the expense of the country.

What appalls me even more is that Republican advertising has laid the economic meltdown at the feet of President Obama, even though it occurred before he took office. The fiscal bailouts he made, we are told, yielded no results (which is a patent lie – not only did General Motors get back on its feet, it repaid its bailout loan years ahead of schedule), but the Republican blowhards conveniently don’t mention the billions that President Bush authorized for buying distressed mortgage-related assets; approximately $700 billion dollars worth (although nearly half of it wound up going to buying preferred stock in banks instead). This money didn’t create any jobs nor did it stabilize the economy beyond those of the banks who had made reckless loans to begin with. The Obama stimulus plan, so demonized by conservatives, was $825 billion dollars with provisions to create and save jobs, provide social assistance to those impacted by the recession (including providing money for homeowners to renegotiate their mortgage, allowing them to keep their homes) and tax rebates to the general public, which were seen not in a lump sum but over time in weekly paychecks.

For whatever reason, Democrats seemed unwilling to fight back against Republican smear ads who promised that Democratic candidates were “more of the same,” big spending Washington insiders. However, what are the Republicans but more of the same Bush-era sorts who would leave big business to regulate itself – and we all saw how well that worked.

I realize that this is somewhat of a sour grapes kind of blog this time out, but it is really depressing how many people seem more motivated by self-interest rather than in working together to make things better. Now, I know a lot of my friends and readers are conservatives and Republicans and I’m not saying that every conservative Republican is the spawn of Satan – although I suspect that if you looked carefully you might find some cloven feet on Dick Cheney – and I also realize that many Tea Party activists and conservatives are sincere when they say that they feel the best thing for the country is to repeal the Health care bill, lower taxes and eliminate deficit spending.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I will certainly be the first to say that I may be completely wrong and Sarah Palin is a genius who gets what America needs better than I do. However, I vehemently disagree with her ideas and policies, and I believe that the American greatness lies in its ability to re-invent itself and rise stronger from adversity. However, I also believe that the American greatness lies in its compassion for those who need help, and when I hear candidates trash the Obama health care plan, I can only shake my head in disbelief.

First of all, the health care system needs reform badly. We are allowing medical decisions to be made based on the basis of cost rather than what is best for a patient as determined by their doctor. We have many cases of insurance companies denying treatments to patients that put their lives at risk; by the time the patient is successful in bringing suit against the insurance companies, they often have already died from their disease. There is evidence that doctors employed by insurance companies (as well as non-medical employees) were given financial incentives to deny care. There are far more of those types of stories than there are of Canadians flocking across the border to get care in the U.S. In fact, the Canadian health care system is consistently ranked higher than our own.

However, those that rail about the expense of “Obamacare” rarely have any alternatives to health care reform other than to have things remain as they are. Certainly the insurance companies would like to see that happen. We hear about small businesses being forced to carry health care insurance; the reality is that business that employ less than 50 people will not be affected; only those who employ 50 people or more and quite frankly, when you’re starting to get into that many people working for you, you should be offering health insurance.

There is also the same tired old refrain that the health care plan will bankrupt the country; the truth is that according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which is as close to being impartial as any agency can be, says that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the formal name for Obamacare) will actually reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first decade, then an additional $1.2 trillion over the second. Even if this weren’t the case, wouldn’t you think that helping people in need – sick people in particular – is only the Christian thing to do?

There just seems to be so much hypocrisy in the political debate these days, certainly not all of it on the Republican side but it seems to me that there is more of it on the right than there is on the left. As I said, I bear no love towards the Democrats who have failed in my estimation to deliver on their campaign promises of 2008, who continue to be just as in the pockets of special interests as Republican candidates are in the pockets of big business.

The sad fact of our national disgrace is that our elections are run by big money and only the very rich can afford to run for office, meaning that the ordinary citizen literally has no voice in national government. Both parties are just as much to blame for this state of affairs. We need to take money out of the equation of the election promise and impose term and spending limits as well as limit the ability for businesses, PACs and lobby groups to contribute to campaigns, as well as restrict access to politicians once the campaign is over. If the Tea Party would boldly come out for campaign spending reform, for transparency in the process so that we can see where the money for outside spending in campaigns is coming from, I would be more willing to give them some slack, but these seemingly simple, sensible things are something that conservative Republicans are fighting against. Recently, George Will spoke out against campaign spending reform on ABC News, espousing the donation campaign funds as a form of free speech, wondering “The question is, do you have to notify the government before you can speak on politics?”

Well, yes you do if you have an agenda. Money itself doesn’t speak but the source of the money does. If oil companies are donating millions of dollars for a senate campaign in Louisiana, don’t voters deserve to know that? That’s what I mean by hypocrisy; the unwillingness to conduct your affairs in the light of day, then portray yourself as the white knight charging in to save America. Personally, I’d like to know who’s paying for the armor before that knight rides into battle.

Defending the President

Taking potshots at the president is as American as fast food franchising. Regardless of the party of the Commander-in-Chief, whoever is in office can be assured that those on the opposite side of the aisle are going to find fault with whatever he does, no matter how beneficial it may be. The only exception is in cases of national tragedy, when solidarity is the word of the day – and the politically astute thing to do.

After all, the office of President is fundamentally a political office, although in many ways, it is becoming more and more of a business than an office. Think about it; another way of referring to the president is as the Chief Executive. In every way, the president is the CEO of America, Incorporated.

I am all for criticizing the actions and policies of the president; in fact, it is one of the basic rights of this country, one which separates us from a lot of other countries on this rock where criticism of the person in charge can land you in a very nasty prison cell for a very long time. Here, that kind of thing can get you a talk show on Fox News.

As far as our sitting president is concerned, I am not fully satisfied with the job he’s done. I truly believe that he has compromised too much and tried to win friends on both sides of the aisle. He’s bent over backwards to try to give concessions to the conservatives, who have responded basically by blockading all of the legislation he wants enacted.

The president’s job is not to please the other side of the fence; his job is to get things done, to make the country a better place for its citizens. How he goes about doing that as well as his definition of a better place has more to do with his political philosophy – that’s what we vote on. It’s also what we expect him to act on once he gets elected, and my main criticism of President Obama is that he hasn’t gotten the job done on really anything; yes, some groundbreaking legislation has been passed but the reality is that the healthcare plan he put in is a mishmash of compromise and concession that pleases nobody fully, although it is better than nothing. I didn’t vote for him to give us better than nothing.

Likewise, the economy remains in shambles. His jobs bill has helped but he obviously has a long ways to go; people are still hurting. The economy needs stimulation, and the best way to do that is to promote new technologies. Alternative renewable fuel sources and environmentally friendly products would seem to be the way to go right now; incentive programs for businesses and universities to research and develop these things should be a major priority.

I do like some of the things he has done; I believe ending the combat mission in Iraq is the right thing to do at this time. We have been there long enough and further military presence there seems to me to be non-productive. It is time for the Iraqi government to stand on its own two feet and begin the business of being their own country; not that we shouldn’t render them the assistance they need in terms of resources or manpower to restore their infrastructure, but I think that the Iraqis need to be on their own to develop their nation the way they see fit. It’s like a teenager having their parents looking over their shoulder; they act differently when we’re around than they do on their own.

I also agree that the commercialization of space should be the way to go rather than funneling everything through NASA. NASA should be all about exploration and science; getting business up there will further stimulate the economy and give us new products, new technologies and most importantly, new jobs. I’m hoping within the next quarter century we’ll start seeing significant commercial presence in space, from manufacturing facilities to research and development labs to hotels for tourists.

So I guess it’s fair to say that my opinion of President Obama’s performance so far is mixed at best. However, I must say that my blood boils when I read posts from people talking about him being a Muslim as if that should disqualify him from the presidency. That kind of thing is just American ignorance. Folks, let’s get one thing straight – the people who want to tear this country down are the entire Islamic faith, just a few hotheaded extremists. There are plenty of Muslims on this planet who are believers in peace and prosperity for all. Not everyone who believes in the Koran wants to put women behind veils and party like it’s 999.

There are people who talk about the deficit like it is entirely the doing of Barack Obama. Once again, these are people who apparently slept through the Bush presidency (the second one). George W. Bush had a major surplus when he came into office; when he left we were nearly $6 trillion in debt according to the Office of Management and Budget. Ahhh, some conservative political pundits might say, but in Obama’s first year of office alone the debt soared to $7.5 trillion and is expect to near $10 trillion this year.

Let’s understand a few things about that debt. One of the biggest contributory factors to the debt was the war in Iraq. It was the largest single expenditure that the government was making. Let’s not even get into the spurious reasons that we got into that war in the first place, the phantom WMD and the excuse for Big Oil to raise their prices through the roof; that was a war that Obama opposed and that Bush initiated. That aspect of the debt is all Bush’s, even that which was spent during the Obama presidency. Many of the bail-out programs that also contributed significantly to the debt were initiated by the Bush presidency as well.

Of course, Obama could have acted earlier to stymie both of those hemorrhagic costs, but he didn’t and so spending went through the roof. Now, he has a healthcare system which is due to take effect in 2014 that will be a major expense; however, I put it to you that I’d rather spend money saving lives rather than taking them. I’m kind of funny that way though.

Some people are downright psychotic when it comes to Obama, on both sides of the fence; Obamanauts who think he can do no wrong, and their opposition who think he can do no right. The truth is somewhere in the middle; he has done some good things, some not so good things but in the end I tend to support his viewpoints more than I did Bush’s which I thought were ruinous to the economy and tarnished our image around the world. Can we ever take the moral high ground again after we willfully tortured prisoners from Iraq? That didn’t happen under Obama’s watch, my friends.

There is certainly some who are judging the current President based on the color of his skin. I don’t think disagreeing with President Obama makes you a racist; however, it can also be said that some of those who disagree with the President are racists. In fact, there is no doubt about it; the vitriol of the hatred directed at him indicates to me that these people are the same sorts who in years past would have worn a hood and burned crosses. Maybe some of them still do.

But I wouldn’t tar everyone with that same brush. Some Obama-haters do so because they really think his policies are ruining this country and turning us into a socialist state. Frankly, I think that after years of rampant capitalism to the point of abusiveness, we could use a little socialism to balance out the big business gone wild kind of atmosphere we have now. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the individual citizen who needs protection from the excesses of corporate greed that helped start the economic meltdown in the first place. My problem with Obama is I’m not sure he’s been the protector of the citizen I would like him to be; big business needs to be reined in and regulated since they have proven beyond any doubt that they cannot regulate themselves, and the President hasn’t shown any signs that he’s willing to do that. If he doesn’t, conditions will pretty much continue the way they are indefinitely.

To think that Obama is in some sort of conspiracy to destroy America is absolutely ludicrous and absurd. There is absolutely no evidence of that other than the sorry manufactured factoids that rightist bloggers and pundits have formulated, scare tactics to alarm those who are looking for an excuse to find fault. I wonder if we had elected a white president with the exact same policies would we be hearing the same types of things. Probably to an extent we would – as I said, taking shots at the President is an American tradition, but I bet that there would be no Hitler comparisons on billboards if he were white. That’s just disrespectful, not just to the man but to the office. At least let’s agree that if you don’t like the man, you respect the office and act accordingly.

Intents and Purposes

Most of those who know me are well aware that I am a dog lover. Now, that doesn’t automatically make me a cat hater – I grew up with cats in the house and have felt a good deal of affection towards some of them (RIP Boxbelly) more than others.

Cats are the epitome of grace and balance, but even they occasionally slip up. One of the things I love about cats (and most cat owners will agree I’m sure) is that when a cat has that odd moment of clumsiness  they will quickly right themselves, look around to see if they were observed and seeing that they were, adopt that ultimate smug feline attitude of “I meant to do that.”

Humans are far more complex in our intentions than cats are. We often do things without thinking of the consequences of our actions, and then sit back and watch the carnage. Generally, when a cat messes up, there’s just a momentary flash of cat-embarrassment but when a human screws the pooch, the ramifications can range from negligible to catastrophic.

Our society has, in its zeal to become more business-centric, become less forgiving of intent. For the most part, we’re all about the bottom line baby and if we see some disaster, we look scrupulously for the cause of it. In effect, we’ve become less about solving the root problem and more about pointing fingers. This is especially true in politics as well as in business. It’s all about the fall guy. I wonder if this hasn’t made this a colder, meaner civilization than it needs to be.

Take former President Bush, for example – the most recent one. Generally speaking, he is the most reviled politician of our time. His presidency will more than likely be regarded as a failure, given the war in Iraq and the economic meltdown that followed. I’ve seen plenty of bloggers and pundits call for criminal and civil charges to be brought up against the former chief executive.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Bush’s policies you’ll find on the net. From a bottom line perspective, the general population of the country is much worse off now than they were in 2000. However, while it is easy to say “bottom line, the guy screwed up,” one has to wonder if Bush’s intentions were to make life miserable for most Americans, or if he honestly felt he was making things better for us.

I think it’s safe to say that most people assume that Bush’s intentions were to make life better for the very rich, particularly those in the petroleum industry and that may very well be correct. Certainly the signs point in that direction. However, it is also safe to say that most people have never met the president personally. I certainly have not. Therefore, I can’t say with any certainty if he truly wanted the results he achieved vis a vis the economy. For that reason, I elect to give him the benefit of the doubt.

This may not be the most popular of standpoints. After all, it’s hip to hate Bush (no cracks here, wise guys) so why not join the bandwagon. My sister is going to give me a lot of grief for this, and while I’m certainly not about shirking accountability and ownership of one’s deeds (or misdeeds), I just can’t bring myself to hate the man. I really can’t bring myself to hate anybody, but even George W. Bush doesn’t get the big “H” from me. I know people who were personally affected in a negative way by his policies – some very close friends, in fact. People I care about are suffering because of his failures in office. Still, I can’t hate the man.

Hate is a wasted emotion. It saps the energy of the hater, stresses their systems. Most of the time, the people we hate either don’t know or don’t care that we hate them. There are the rare few that actually want us to hate them, but those are generally people we have wronged romantically who want to remain important in our lives, so if they can’t get us to love them, they settle for having us hate them.

To me hate is just a waste of time. If you deliberately want to hurt me, then I really don’t want you to have any importance in my life. Hating someone who deliberately hurts me then becomes irrelevant, because the person who harmed me is irrelevant. I’m no longer going to have anything to do with them. Hating someone who accidentally hurt me is also just as wasteful; after all, they didn’t mean to hurt me, and everyone makes mistakes. I’ve certainly caused my share of pain without meaning to.

So we get back to intentions again. What was the reason for our actions, and how did it affect the outcome. Catholics are big on intent; the truism “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is extremely un-Catholic. Perhaps I’m a bit tied to that upbringing, but I believe it’s important. Why you do things is at least important as to what you do as when or where is. Doing things for the “right reasons” can sometimes take the sting out of the “wrong thing.” Some of the sting, at least.

So, once again I’ve gotten a bit windy on a relatively simple subject but I guess that’s to be expected. It’s my nature to expound and pontificate. Still, we went full circle to where we started this time at least. And yes, I meant to do that.