Wasn’t Justice First Anyway?

U.S. Army veteran and Representative for Florida's 22nd District, Allen West

You might have heard about how U.S. Representative and incendiary quote factory Allen West–an early candidate for both Fool of the Year and Fool of the Decade honors–followed up his not-so-subtle claim that “78-81” Democratic congressional members are card-carrying members of the Communist Party with the equally untrue assessment that economic justice is un-American.

(There are roughly 78 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)–all Democrats.  Again, not subtle.)

What you might not have heard is that the supposedly-Communist CPC proposed a budget in March of this year (which they suspiciously named The People’s Budget–Uh-oh!).

Their budget is designed to eliminate the deficit by 2021–in fact, it creates a budget surplus, while preserving Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

This is primarily done by cutting waste in defense spending, applying the Buffet Rule, taxing capital gains as regular income, and eliminating oil subsidies and corporate loopholes from the tax code.  Their budget enacts a public option for healthcare.  It fixes–REPEAT–fixes Social Security’s insolvency.  It invests US$1.45 trillion in job creation, education, clean energy, housing, and broadband infrastructure.  It promotes energy independence.  It eliminates emergency war funding which will help prevent presidents from going to war without congressional consent (as mandated by that pesky U.S. Constitution).

In short, this is a budget that is not only balanced, but saves money by reducing spending overall, eliminating waste, and moving us closer to a flat tax rate (for all but the very poor). It might sound made up but it’s not.  I got all this directly out of the actual budget proposal (which you can read here).

The CPC budget stands in stark contrast to the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan which devastates social programs, imbalances the tax code even more in favor of the rich and large corporations, and in the end INCREASES the deficit by more than US$3 trillion.  Despite being denounced by religious leaders as “immoral” and “irresponsible,” the Republican majority in the House passed the Ryan Budget on March 29, 2012.

The CPC budget proposal was voted down the very same day, 78-346.  It barely managed a ripple in the national media.  And Allen West called them communists for proposing it.

(A bipartisan budget proposal incorporating ideas from both sides also went down in flames that day.)

West has been one of the louder voices in the cacophony denouncing social justice as socialism, communism, Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, hell, syllogism, and whatever other ism they think will get a rise out of people.

Much as socialism and capitalism have been locked hand-in-hand by our Constitution, so has liberty and justice (I’m pretty sure I heard that somewhere).   Before the Founders even got started with the particulars of how our newly formed nation would work, they made their intentions clear:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

My glasses might be smudgy but I think justice is first.  Now obviously this isn’t a prioritized list but justice seems to at least be equally important as  the other things.  I hear so much talk of liberty being an American value.  Yet when many people say that they only mean economic liberty.  Oddly, many of these same people don’t interpret justice to include economic justice.

Communism dictates that an engineer and a janitor should earn the same income.  It’s ridiculous.  I’d be willing to bet that less than 0.01% of Americans believe anything remotely close to that.  What I believe, and I think many other Americans believe, is that a janitor should be able to put food on his family’s table and a roof over their heads.  That his kids should have access to a college education.  That no children should starve. That no one should die of untreated illnesses or exposure to the elements.

These are not radical assaults on American liberty.  They are American values that simply place a higher priority on justice.  There’s actually a reasonable argument to be made that economic justice  increases liberty because it allows more people the freedom to enjoy it.

Allen West’s type of partisan name-calling is usually just a means of deflection.  Unfortunately, so are the calls for a “change in the tone” of political discourse.  I disagree.  Our lives, our freedoms, our futures–and our children’s futures–are at stake.  We should be passionate about these things, so long as that passion doesn’t supersede truth and reason.

So it goes with liberty and justice, too.

Allen West--technically--violates U.S. federal law by putting Ol' Glory in water--on flag day. (I know, I know, but I just couldn't help myself. :))
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America’s Private Army FAIL!

The Young Turks covered a video released by Harper’s Magazine where Blackwater mercenaries–representing the United States of America–ride through a town in Iraq like it’s a Mad Max movie set.

It’s one of the more despicable videos I’ve seen in a while.

Remember that these are not American soldiers.  They’re American mercenaries:

Erik Prince

Blackwater is the mercenary firm founded as Blackwater USA in 1996 by former Navy SEAL and fundamentalist Christian Erik Prince. It received no-bid [as in not free market] contracts from the Bush administration in Iraq, Afghanistan, and post-Katrina New Orleans. In 2009, Prince resigned as CEO. Amid scandals over misbehavior by Blackwater employees in Iraq, the company renamed itself Blackwater Worldwide in 2007, Xe Services in 2009, and Academi in 2011.

"The massacres?! No, no ,no, no ,no, that was Blackwater. We're Xe--err--Academi...with an 'i'."

Of course to those Iraqis, the distinction between our actual military and Blackwater–sorry, Academi–is meaningless.  They are all part of the foreign military force fighting a war of dubious justifiability in their hometowns.

I understand that unspeakable things happen in times of war, but if some foreign army invaded America and then ran over someone I love while they were joyriding through town in a Hummer, we would instantly become blood enemies.  I would be extremely committed to their destruction.  If they withdrew, I’d be inclined to follow.

But we don’t see war from that perspective.  We’ve been desensitized.  Historically, when a country went to war the whole country went to war.  Soldiers and civilians both had to sacrifice.  Resources were rationed.  Budgets were tightened both at home and in the government.  There were drafts.  Now the difference between war and peace is nominal.  In terms of impact, if it weren’t for the periodic stories in the news, most of us would hardly notice.

Whaddaya mean, 'gun-culture?'

Our perspective on war has become skewed.  War has been sterilized for us: Don’t show carnage or collateral damage; don’t show dead soldiers coming home in flag-covered coffins; don’t make Congress actually vote to declare war; don’t raise taxes or cut services to pay for it; don’t question the motives or the nobility of the mission.  All that business is unpleasant. Just get yourself a patriotic bumper-sticker and a flag for your car antenna and go on a shopping spree, take in a movie.  We’ve got this.

Of course, bombs over Baghdad is nothing at all like bombs over Boston, focusing on a firefight while wondering if your family has been safely evacuated from the combat zone, or hiding in your cellar while vehicle-mounted rotary cannons pulverize every house in your neighborhood.

This desensitization has made war–a contest of murder and destruction between nations–just another political tool; it’s how we get our way in the world.

And it has made using private armies like Blackwater acceptable.

Pepsi…The New Awesome

Gross polluters Charles and David Koch are award-winning members of ALEC

Thinkprogress.org is reporting that in January 2012, Pepsi pulled its support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

This is great news.

For those of us against the excessive influence of corporations on politics ALEC is one of the bad guys.  In fact, they’re one of the handful of organizations at the very heart of the problem.

ALEC is a right-wing lobbying group comprised of a conglomeration of Fortune 500 companies and rich Republicans.  They help enact right-wing model legislation (test markets for legislation like Shoot First/Stand Your Ground) and help coordinate that legislation in other states as well as on the federal level.

“W” loves him some ALEC. ‘Nuff said.

ALEC doesn’t just push for legislation, they WRITE the bills and then give them to Republican lawmakers to enact–as-written.  It’s called cookie-cutter legislation; multiple assemblies pass these bills containing the exact same wording; it’s pretty much fill in the blank where lawmakers simply add the district or state, sponsoring legislators, and the legislative body in which it’s being proposed; one Republican lawmaker (from Florida, of course) accidentally submitted a bill with the ALEC mission statement still attached.

ALEC proposed legislation includes (but is in no way limited to):

Pepsi pulled its support for ALEC  in lieu of the unpopularity of Stand Your Ground legislation which ALEC ardently supports (and is currently promoting in multiple states and on the federal level).  The pressure of Pepsi’s pullout forced Coke to follow suit.

This type of defection typically engenders right-wing retaliation.  We need to support Pepsi (and Coke) for making a bold and somewhat courageous decision.

But it does serve as proof that we can make a difference.

So drink a Pepsi today! 🙂

What I Hate About Republicans–Objectivism

Ayn Rand is definitely one of the more interesting thinkers of the 20th Century.  Conservatives absolutely love her.  She’s the jam to their jelly roll.

Ms. Rand pioneered a philosophy called Objectivism, which argues that reality exists as an independent absolute.  There is no God, no spirituality, no insight, no intuition, and no instinct; there is only man–made heroic by self-determination–his perception, and the cold hard reason by which he can comprehend this reality.  Since there are no higher powers, the crux of morality is rational self-interest.  We have no intrinsic moral responsibility to our community.  Self sacrifice is a fool’s endeavor.  In other words, get yours.

It’s not warm and fuzzy, but it’s rational–after a fashion–and served as an interesting counterbalance to the existentialist malaise pervading 20th century Europe.

According to Ms. Rand,  the highest form of government is 100% free-market capitalism: No regulations, no health or safety standards, no taxes, no labor laws, etc.  This is the best environment for the self-determined individual to prosper  and the cream to rise.  As for the unlucky, well, they deserve whatever fate they receive.  Life’s hard.

This is where her philosophy goes wonky.  Ms. Rand believed that in an utterly laissez-faire environment people will somehow, for some inexplicable and–by her own rationale–unjustified reason, come together and engage in honest, fair, well-intentioned business with one another.

Liberals are always painted as dreamers and idealists with our heads in the clouds.  Meanwhile, this free-market-heals-all-wounds Shangri-la bullshit is the biggest political fiction of the last century…except for maybe supply-side economics.   (Ironically, Rand was a chain smoker and contracted lung cancer from cigarettes manufactured by an unregulated tobacco company that lied about the effects of its product.)

The fundamental flaw here is that objectivism holds the rights of the individual as the highest moral good.  Yet it doesn’t take much thinking to come up with plenty of circumstances where the needs of the group would exceed the needs of the individual.  We are not islands.  Establishing and maintaining market standards, transportation, communication, and defense would ensure an overall better standard of living for more people.  In objectivism, the rights of one individual supercede the rights of the group.  The theory that unregulated markets will lead us to Utopia where there won’t be rampant lying, cheating, scamming, robbery, graft, racketeering, intimidation, violence, and murder is fantastical and was disproved by history long ago.

I could spend all day picking apart this cockamamie philosophy.  But the truly repugnant aspect I take from it–and that Republicans embrace–is the disregard for their fellow man.   Objectivists believe that we are not beholden to one another; that it’s a better world when we’re all just looking out for ourselves.  There are no higher authorities, therefore the ultimate moral good is to get as filthy stinking rich as you can.

Decent, rational people cannot possibly believe this.

To Ms. Rand’s credit, she was at least consistent.  She believed the government had no right to impose, either to help or to hinder.

Republicans however, use Rand’s philosophy to justify corporate cronyism.  It is the ultimate goal of the Republican Party to eliminate all government-run social programs and give those proceeds to the top 1%.  There is no level of success or amount of good that can be done that will change their minds about the social safety net.  We could end illiteracy, end hunger, hell, we could wipe out cancer;  if the government took a penny from a single citizen to do it, they consider it philosophically and morally wrong.  And they will continue to actively undermine these programs to further their agenda…no matter who gets hurt by it.

This is grand-scale sociopathy.   Republicans justify their cruelty by blaming the poor and infirm, stereotyping them as weak, lazy, and dumb.  They admit that “something” should be done to help them; but proclaim that the government has no place imposing in such matters, even if it’s the will of the majority.  Somebody has to die of disease or starvation or exposure–not because we can’t prevent it, but because we have no responsibility TO prevent it.  

This is some sinister shit.

It’s Republican red meat.

And it’s yet another reason to hate what they represent.

P.S.  A longer, more objective version of Ayn Rand’s interview (Mike Wallace still kinda steps all over her rather than just letting her speak her piece):

What I Hate About Republicans — Intro (Part 2)

So I’m coming back to this series of blogs discussing what I hate about Republicans discussing one point in each blog.  At some point, I plan to move on to what I hate about Democrats, politics in general, and the media (probably sometime in the fall of 2071 at this rate :().  What I initially expected to be 3 or 4 subjects quickly expanded as I started giving the topic some thought.    I limited it to 10:

  1. Bigotry
  2. Voter Suppression
  3. Edification of Greed
  4. Anti-Americanism
  5. Dominionism
  6. Anti-Intellectualism
  7. Objectivism
  8. Extreme Nationalism
  9. Discrimination
  10. Austerity

Obviously, I could write a book on each and every topic–and maybe that’s something I will ultimately do.   The problem with blogging in such a partitioned way is the loss of context which I think is crucial to understanding what Republicans are trying to do.

A good example of this is an element of social conservative philosophy I–and others on the left–call the Fall From Grace theory.  For many social conservatives, the Founding Fathers are, like Christ and the Disciples (or Adam and Eve), fetishized archetypes representing the purity and apex of an ideal–an ideal from which, according to conservatives, we have strayed.  Having fallen from grace we need to “get back to our core values” in order to right the ship.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  It should.  This is a key tenet of fundamentalism.

Obviously this is a nonsensical concept since America’s values have been evolving constantly since our nation’s inception (see slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, etc.).  Nor were our founding Fathers of one unified mind.  Their greatness lies in their ability to bring such strong willed and brilliant men of wildly disparate opinions not only to accord but  an accord that still stands among the great achievements in political thought.   But Republicans don’t overly concern themselves about being historically accurate (I’m looking at you, Newt).  In fact, they outright oppose it.  Tea Party Republicans in Tennessee are fighting to have slavery–and the fact that many Founding Fathers owned them–removed from history books (And don’t even think about mentioning Thomas Jefferson’s jungle fever).  They don’t want anything that makes America ‘look bad’ being taught to children.

This is Orwellian propaganda at its unmitigated worst.

Yet the reasoning behind this philosophy is synergistic.   It incorporates several Republican/conservative ideologies that I am critical of including anti-Americanism, extreme nationalism, and Christian fundamentalism.  This is a crystal clear snapshot of their vision for America.  But when you break the actions down into parts, you can lose the image of the whole.

The Republican party needs to be exposed for what it is: a party of fear and hate.

Force conservatives to either admit to that fear and hatred or distance themselves from it.  And if you want make the argument that the Democratic party has titanic problems as well, I’ll be the first to agree with you.  But the Democrats aren’t pushing for more war in Iran and Palestine.  Democrats aren’t legislating against LGBT Americans’ right to marry.   Democrats aren’t trying to take reproductive and contraceptive rights away from women.    Democrats aren’t pushing stupid laws like Florida’s stand-your-ground self-defense law, which let Trayvon Martin’s killer walk away from the scene of the crime without arrest, murder weapon in hand.  Democrats aren’t trying to re-segregate schools in North Carolina, or take the truth out of American history classes, or science out of education.  Democrats aren’t trying to prevent Muslims from building mosques and practice their religion freely.

These are things we should be talking about.  I don’t want to lose the general idea of Republican lunacy because I keep fixing my nose to each little point.

‘Cause there is a lot to hate about today’s Republican party.

The Education Fix

I come from a family of educators.  My mother, aunt, both uncles, and my grandmother have all been teachers in some fashion.   My youngest brother is currently studying to become an educator.

Being familiar with education, my family has never been supportive of the testing craze currently dominating our education system.  It stresses a limited range of skills and specific types of learning.  And in the end, all we’re really doing is teaching our students how to take a test.

Education is the way by which Americans will compete in the increasingly global economy.  It is also how we can understand the world in which we live, our place in history, and our responsibility to it.  Unfortunately, we are falling further and further behind in this regard.

I really don’t understand why education isn’t a higher priority–actually, I do.  It’s this austerity bullshit our politicians are trying to force down our throats.  They want to gut education to justify tax breaks for billionaires. 

I honestly believe the Republican party–and to a lesser extent the democratic party–has a long term goal of creating a 3rd world economy here in the United States, with a super-rich, elite ruling class, and a docile, ignorant, working class majority that has limited opportunities outside of whatever jobs the elites make available at whatever wages they deem acceptable.

They want no mandatory health care programs, no collective bargaining rights for workers, no Social Security, no Medicare, no minimum wage, no child labor laws, no government regulation of business, and enough education for workers to perform skilled tasks, but not enough to think critically.  They want a flock corralled by religion, conditioned to endure hardship, and never question authority.

The best, most effective way for us to recapture control of our future is with a broad, robust education system; one designed to maximize the potential in each and every student–not meet standardized testing requirements.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that powerful nations crumble from within long before they are conquered from the outside.  Approaching education with the same attitude we have about our military–that we will be the best no matter what it takes–would take us a lot farther toward ensuring our security than we could in building another squadron of fighter jets or ballistic missile platform.

We have an outdated, industrial-age education system that promotes discipline, routine, and rote memory.  Yet we have an information-and-technology-based economy that stresses initiative, critical thinking, and problem solving.  We need a system that to develops the ability to manage, evaluate, and understand information–especially with the myriad ways information comes to us.  But more than that, we need a system that fully develops whatever abilities a student may possess.

In this we are failing ourselves and future generations.  But it doesn’t have to be this way:

So do not buy into the Republican voucher program talking point–the voucher will not be enough to send your kid to a good school.  Do not support politicians who want to cut education funding, including college grants.   Then let’s call for an education revolution.  Tear it all down like the Romans did Carthage, “leave not one stone upon another.” Get away from the testing mania.  Begin rebuilding with evidence-based (i.e., proven teaching method) pilot programs that integrate technology and stress active learning (as opposed to passive learning in which students sit and listen to a teacher lecture) to find the most effective teaching methods.  Dramatically increase teacher pay, especially for grades K-5.  Make it a more prestigious position to attract even better candidates.   Then we’ll be ready to start building a 21st century education system.

Our future literally and critically depends on it.

P.S. thanks to my mom for help with refining the technical jargon and conceptual whodjamawhatsit.  You can visit her blog here.

The Ugly Head of Citizens United Rears Up

Remember during the 2010 State Of The Union Address when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito shook his head in dissent when Barack Obama commented on how the Citizen’s United decision would greatly affect elections (Or when Alito and the other conservative Justices didn’t attend the 2011 State of the Union Address)?

I wonder what Alito thinks now.

The Young Turks break down the impact of the Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission in the form of a phenomenon newly prevalent in this election: the billionaire sugar-daddy.

I believe that this is the number one problem we face in our country today.  Sure, there are more severe issues surrounding war and poverty, life and death stuff.  There’s corruption and greed, too.

But in the end, it all flows back to Citizen’s United, wherein the activist Supreme Court decided that money represents free speech.

The Citizen's United Decision is reverting us back to the political boss system.

Thus, corporations and special interest groups pumping billions of dollars into elections with minimal identification standards and no standards for honesty or truth-telling, is simply an expression of free speech.

“What’s that you say?  The electorate has been so turned around by all this heavily funded misinformation and outright lying that they don’t know which way is up?  Whoops!  Pure happenstance–hey, is that Glee playing on the t.v.?  That looks like a hoot!”

Never mind that China–or any foreign government or group–could theoretically be footing the bill.  Those interests would simply be exercising their freedom of speech.  Here.  In America’s political system.

Citizen’s United is the reason why we have privatized prisons and crappy public schools and stagnant wages and and humorous financial reform law and even more (or less) humorous health care reform and record breaking corporate profits and record-breaking executive bonuses and draconian online piracy bills and all the other situations that occur when financing elections adds to the profit margin.

We all have a voice, some voices are louder or farther reaching, but essentially, it’s an equivalent right.  When we talk about dollars, it’s not equal.  And that’s the point of capitalism.  If it was all equal it would be communism.  So by definition, the Citizen’s United decision gives those that have lots of money even more rights than the rest of us.  Supreme Court activism at its worst.

You know what?  I could care less what Alito thinks.  I could care less what any politician thinks.  It is imperative that we get money out of politics.  The future of our nation depends on it.

(Constitution correction image from: http://www.laprogressive.com/citizens-united-corporate-power/.  Citizen’s united logo from: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/reports/citizens_united.php.  Pledge Allegiance Cartoon from: http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/2011/12/30/citizens-united-loses-in-montana-supreme-court-upholds-state-ban-on-corporate-spending/.)

The Great Private Prison Scam

Another of the innumerable reasons to get money out of politics.

You would think that in the debate over the pros and cons of privatizing things like Social Security, healthcare, and the education system, examples like this would get brought up for consideration.  Of course, both sides are bought out so there is no debate.  The money ALWAYS wins.

The REAL Healthcare Debate In A Nutshell

I’m just going to come right out and say it:  We need to socialize our health care system in the United States.

Call it single-payer, call it a public option, call it a Medicare buy-in, call it whatever you want, just socialize it so we can move on.  (Yes, I hear the political heads exploding.) 

I understand.  I’ve used the dreaded S-word.  Fortunately, I just finished a blog about the dogmatic shroud surrounding socialism and I believe you’ll find it less scary (and less un-American) than you think.

We already know detractors will slather the idea in terrifying imagery.   They’ll try to make it seem like you’ll have to go to some kind of DMV for your chemotherapy.  This is the United States of America.  I have no doubt that if we make it a priority to have the most effective and efficient socialized healthcare system the world has ever seen we could get it done.  We did it with our socialized military.  You can’t argue with success.

I look at it like this: human life is more important than profit.  If it is impossible to treat every sick person and still make money then the private sector should not be tasked with providing care.

The naysayers will nevertheless complain about all of the medical advancements our private healthcare system has made.  They tend to leave out the fact that the majority of those advancements were actually made with public, taxpayer-funded grants, and many of those to public, taxpayer-funded universities.

They’ll lament that we’re turning into France or some other socialist state.  (I’d counter that with the story of my French expatriate friend Annie who had her first child in France.  The child was premature and there was a complication with the birth.  Annie was hospitalized for three days.  Her daughter for a week.  There was no bill.)  The fact is, medical costs are one of the main factors behind most bankruptcy filings in  America.  According to a 2007 study by The American Journal of Medicine, getting sick was a factor in 62% of personal bankruptcies.  Even worse, 75% of all those filing for personal bankruptcy actually had some kind of medical insurance.  If it looks like failure and smells like failure…

The critics will say it’s unconstitutional and that the Founding Fathers never intended for us to have universal healthcare.  I would begin by doubting their clairvoyance, then follow up with the argument that in the days of the Founding Fathers a doctor engaged in practices like applying leeches, bloodletting, and having the patient hold boiled stones.  Modern medicine can be the difference between life, death, and the quality of both.  It has become a foundational element of the human experience.  The Founding Fathers could no more predict its advent than they could the internet.

Constitutionally, I consider a socialized healthcare system both a promotion of the general welfare and a Fifth Amendment right.  Anyone who denies a person access to healthcare is denying them their Right to Life without due process.  It is a somewhat broad interpretation, but it doesn’t go against the spirit of the Constitution any more than it does to interpret the inclusion of an Air Force into our military.  Who knew there would be airplanes?

If that’s not enough for the bellyachers, then I say let’s convene a Constitutional convention and decide–once and for all–whether or not there should be a Constitutionally protected right to see a doctor.  If almost 3/4 of the population at least want a social health care option–and according to multiple polls they do–our representative government should have a clear mandate.  At the very least, all sides will have a chance to be heard.  A Constitutional amendment could have the added bonus of disincentivizing the rampant profiteering that drives up medical costs (America has the highest prescription drug prices in the world).

So I say again, socialize healthcare.  Do it and be done with the entire argument. In a nutshell.

(Exploding head image from  http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2010/02/24/videos-of-heads-exploding-in-movies/  Founding Fathers image from: http://www.foundersofamerica.com/Founders_of_America_Posters.htm  Bankruptcy image from: http://katzlawflorida.com/bankruptcy-law/  Doctors support public option image from: http://crooksandliars.com/john-amato/us-doctors-support-public-option)

Capitalism and Socialism Making Sweet Love For Over 200 St. Valentine’s Days

(That's Capitalism on the right)

I’m starting to realize that the reason I started blogging is to define things.  Terms get thrown around in the media as if we’re all in agreement on their definition.  But these terms are interpretive.  Instead of real understanding we’re left with presumption, oversimplification, and gross generalization.  It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the rhetoric.  Next thing you know you’re wasting your time battling propaganda and false arguments and the point gets lost.

"What'chu talkin' 'bout, dog?"

Of course, obfuscation is the point more often than not.  Modern discourse in America isn’t about trying to solve the momentous problems we face.  It’s about playing politics.  We’ve been programmed to forswear actual debate and instead respond to sound bites.  Job Creators.  Pro Choice.  Family Values.  We hear the cues and infer the rest.

For example, the reason I started writing this particular blog was to rail against the privatization of our prison system (based on a story I saw on The Young Turks).  I feel strongly that our prison system should remain socialized.  But I kept feeling like I already lost the argument because I was talking about socialism, a word whose very mention opens me up to ad hominem attacks from the right and abandonment from everyone except the far left(many of whom are, in fact, socialists).  Never mind the fact that police, firefighters, teachers, and soldiers are all forms of it, the common argument is that socialism somehow destroys capitalism.  It failed in the Soviet Union; it’s failing in Europe; and it will fail here.  Socialism is un-American and by proxy, I am un-American for proposing it.

Being labeled a socialist might engender some mild criticism.

Socialism is automatically condemned as a hammock for the weak and lazy…as capitalism is worshiped as an almost biblical virtue.  In reality, neither is inherently good or bad.  They are simply economic systems.  Both have a variety of interpretations, manifestations, and specifics.  The good and bad is derived from their application.

So what do I mean when I say socialism and capitalism?

  • When I say capitalism, I mean an economic system where the means of production are primarily controlled by private enterprises.
  • When I say socialism, I mean an economic system where the means of production are primarily controlled by the government.

Capitalism is not morality.  However, it has proven to be the most effective way to cultivate resources and equitably distribute the goods and services needed to drive the economy and  meet the needs of the population.  It generates profits by rewarding ingenuity, invention, and hard work (and luck).  Markets are vicissitudinous.  Private enterprise can be very nimble.  Governments generally plod.  Capitalism is the most logical and natural economic system for the overwhelming majority of market needs.

Yay Products!

However, there are times when need for a good or service supersedes the profit that can be gained by providing it.  We can probably all agree that it’s better for our military to be controlled by our representative government than by private corporations.  It’s better not to need a credit card or account number when we call 9-1-1 to report a crime. And it is in the interests of our nation as a whole not to task Microsoft with educating our children.

Corporations aren’t necessarily malicious.  (Inherently, they are amoral, and free to decide how they will conduct themselves.)  But their main priority isn’t determining what’s in the best interests of the people they serve; it’s making money.

That’s where the argument lies.  It’s not a battle about whether or not capitalism or socialism can work as a philosophy.  Both have examples of success and failure.  Besides, I agree that capitalism is almost always the better choice.  Nor is it a battle for the country’s soul.  Capitalism and socialism have always been a part of America’s composition.

The U.S. Constitution establishes the government’s responsibility for raising and maintaining a military, building roads, and delivering post.  All are Constitutionally established socialized institutions.  So the un-American argument about socialism is fiction.  There are socialist institutions at our very core.  Socialism and capitalism can coexist in the same economy and have since our nation’s inception.  It’s a marriage that has lasted for two hundred and twenty-three years and looks highly likely to reach its tricentennial.

With the dogmas removed, the philosophical questions become simple.

  • Is it in America’s best interests that private corporations profit from imprisoning people?  Is it right that they lobby for more laws and stricter sentencing?
  • Is it in the interest of commerce to unburden private businesses of the responsibility of providing healthcare?
  • Does Social Security keep the elderly and disabled out of poverty?  Is America better off if the cost of their care is placed on individual families?

    Where do we go from here?

The devil is obviously in the details, but these are some of the real questions surrounding socialism and capitalism that can lead to real answers (and ultimately, real solutions) to our nation’s problems.

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