Saturday, September 30, 2006

How quickly they forget

Remember Abu Ghraib? Remember all of the outrage over the illegal abuse of prisoners? 65% of the Senate and 58% of the House do not, because they've just made it legal for dubya and co. to continue doing it.

My representative and senators voted against torture, did yours?

digg story

Friday, September 29, 2006

Followup to "A few good blogs"

Well, the response to my request for recommendations of political blogs was a bit underwhelming, but this one's pretty new, so I shouldn't expect much. Here are a few of the blogs that I've started reading:

  • The Dilbert Blog: The blog of Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic. This blog is sometimes political, but always entertaining.
  • My Soapbox, by Chad Lupkes: A blog by another member of Campaigns Wikia, Chad Lupkes. Chad is a progressive activist in Seattle, WA.
  • Indeterminate: Another Campaigns Wikia member, Ferguson. This blog isn't particularly political, at least not overtly, but his analyses are intriguing.
  • ...a liberal who’s been mugged: Lou Franklin is probably the most outspokenly conservative CW member. Most of the time I think he's nuts, but he provides a valuable insight into how the other side thinks. If I've misrepresented conservative beliefs in this blog, it's probably his fault.
  • The Dead Planet Network: This one is written by Deadplanet, who is, you guessed it, another CW contributer. I saved this one for last because it's not technically a blog (which is made painfully obvious by the lack of an rss feed). Nevertheless, his writings are eloquent and insightful, and definitely worth a read.

I'd love to get some more, so don't hesitate to add your recommendations to the comments. I'd also like recommendations for political podcasts and the like.

This feels like a cop-out, but I have stuff I have to do today. I'll try to have something better tomorrow.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Your word of the day: Polyarchy

In the video below, Noam Chomsky points out, as everyone should already know, that the United States is not a true democracy. He argues that it is instead a Polyarchy, which he describes as "a system in which power resides in the hand of those whom Madison called 'the wealth of the nation', the responsible class of men, and the rest of the population is fragmented, distracted, allowed to participate every couple of years [...] and they have a little choice among the responsible men, the 'wealth of the nation.'" He goes on to explain that our government was "founded on the principle, explained by Madison in the Constitutional Convention that the primary goal of government is to protect the minority of the opulent minority against the majority." This would certainly explain McCarthyism, and the country's general aggression in fighting the spread of communism, as the opulent minority have the most to lose from communism.

He also argues that we are a one-party state, and that that one party has two factions claiming to be opposing parties. I disagree with this assessment, not because I believe that Republicans and Democrats are completely different animals, but because I don't think that the two are well-defined enough to be classified as factions. As I discussed yesterday, the division between the "parties" is based on an arbitrary and overly-simplistic taxonomy. Both perpetuate the current form of government rather than pushing for real change, but the issues on which they do differ are so disparate and tenuously connected, with so much disagreement within the broadly defined "parties" that calling them "factions" is even less accurate.

digg story

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Amorphous Lines in the Sand

Looking at issues in terms of what party supports them is really an absurd idea. When individuals have their own opinion on every issue that they're concerned about, and the average person probably doesn't care at all about more than half of the issues, how do you lump these individuals into groups?

As far as I can tell, the deciding factor is that beliefs described by terms like "Conservative" and "Right" which fall under the Republican Party in the United States are based on the idea that things are are good now and/or were better in the past, and "why mess with a good thing?", while "Liberal" and "Left", represented by the Democratic Party, revolve around the belief that we can work to make the world better than it's ever been. I came to this conclusion largely based on an argument that I saw, from someone who seemed to be a Libertarian voting Republican, that the Democratic Party was too "anti-personal freedom" because it advocates increased taxation and gun regulation. This initially sounded insane to me, as the Liberal values of the Democratic Party tend to fall on the side of increased personal freedom on most issues (this might be partially in reaction to the authoritarian tendencies of the current Republican administration, which are not supported even by many Republicans). So, if the Democratic Party is generally pro-personal freedom, but takes the opposite stance on these issues, what really defines the line between the two? The answer is in the justification for these stances.

The reason for gun regulation is the belief that the need for the average individual to hunt and to protect themselves, particularly in a militia-like fashion as they argue is the purpose behind the second amendment, is outdated, and that the average well-intentioned citizen is more likely to accidentally hurt himself or another with a gun than defend himself. They believe the the primary usefulness of firearms outside military and law enforcement duties is for nefarious purposes, and if, say, a mugger is not able to obtain a gun to mug you, you won't need one to defend yourself from him. In this way, gun regulation attempts to create a better future.

The other issue mentioned is taxation. Nobody likes being obligated to pay money to the government, but taking the money isn't the point of taxation. The purpose is to provide for public programs to increase the general welfare. Everything from road maintenance to business subsidies to universal healthcare requires money. Liberals don't advocate increased taxation, they advocate government programs designed to create a better future that have the side effect of increased taxation because those programs need to be funded.

It is, of course, absurd to agree with either of these solely based on party affiliation. Parties are just a way of organizing these beliefs, and its unfortunate that our system forces voters to decide between such arbitrarily-divided groups rather than voting their own beliefs on individual issues, because that would become so unwieldy with so many issues that even the career politicians elected to represent us can't keep up.

As always, these are my conclusions drawn based on my own observations, and constructive criticism is welcome and encouraged. What do you think defines the division between the parties?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How do you solve a problem like economics?

I am a strong, even radical social progressive and civil libertarian. Individual freedom is most important to me, but when it comes to the other big division between the Left and the Right, I'm a bit less sure what "the way it should be" is. I've yet to see the subject summed-up as simply and brilliantly as Oliver Wendell Holmes summarized the issue of individual freedom with his quote, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Previously, I have not been particularly interested in the subject, but in reading political blogs and discussion, I've begun to become more interested in these issues simply because they present more information that is new to me, and provide a logical question that I have yet to solve.

The first problem that I see is that we know historically, that communism -- at least in the Leninist form demonstrated by the Soviet Union -- does not work because it fails to encourage hard work and innovation, but inheritance and nepotism prevent the laissez faire ideal that those who work hard and innovate will be the ones with access to capital from working. An interesting but entirely impractical solution to this that came to me is to eliminate parenthood as in Huxley's Brave New World. This would prevent people from becoming wealthy by inheritance and would allow the for all people to enter the workforce with level footing, as assumed by the capitalist ideal. Because it would mean that wealth can't be bequeathed to ones descendants, and of course, you can't take it with you when you die, this would remove much of the motivation to accumulate vast amounts of wealth beyond what one can use, and the excess wealth would either be donated to charitable organizations or used to purchase goods and services for ones own enjoyment (stimulating the economy in the process) rather than being hoarded indefinitely, and any remaining funds would presumably go to the government (reducing or eliminating the need for taxes) and/or to charitable organizations upon the individual's death.

A more practical idea that I came up with to offset the barriers to accessing capital and encourage competition would be for the government to provide special loans to new/struggling businesses to replace the need for venture capital. There would obviously need to be safeguards to ensure that this money is not pocketed by business owners, and the the assets bought with the money would become property of the government (most likely to be auctioned-off) if a business fails. This would not only decrease the barriers to entry, but by making these loans indefinite and only requiring them to be paid back with interest in the case of a merger or buyout by a company that has already received such funds (or absorbed a company that has), it would discourage the formation of monopolies. Of course, more loosely-linked trusts would still be an issue, but by providing these funds, the government would in a sense become an investor, giving it a right to monitor the actions of the business to avoid such abuses.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Republican Congress: Robbing our children of their rights AND their clothes

From digg, "House bill HR 5295 made it out of committee and passed, and is now going to the Senate for review. This bill allows education officals and local police to just randomly search, all the way to a strip search, any student they want to, any time, based on suspicion only, basically whenever they feel like it and say the magic words."

Random searches are bad enough. Aside from contradicting the fourth amendment's guarantee of protection from unreasonable search and seizure, this is an obvious invitation for pedophiles and potential rapists who are (or can convincingly pretend to be) in the education or law enforcement field to abuse these students. This is how the GOP protects our children?

I can't believe that even the Republican party would put minors at this much risk of sexual abuse just to indoctrinate them to believe that they have no rights. This is disgusting on so many levels.

read more | digg story

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Against which all governments are measured

There's been a lot of discussion over forms of government, which is the best, and which are better than others. A more interesting question, however, is what makes one form of government better or worse than another. With so many vast differences between various forms, it can be difficult to pin down the single factor that most closely ties to "goodness". Many would argue that the factor is freedom, equality, or accurate representation of the beliefs of the populace, but these values represent an obvious bias toward democracy and the enlightenment values from which it derives. I submit that the "best" form of government is defined not by freedom or representation, but by its inherent level of susceptibility to corruption.

The values behind a form of government may determine its agreeability to a particular individual or group, but its corruptibility determines how likely it is to adhere to those values in the real world, when subjected to the rigors of human nature. Dictatorships are generally reviled as the worst form of government, but an incorruptible, benevolent dictatorship could easily create a far better society than the best democracy. The problem with dictatorships is that they endow an individual with absolute power, and as Lord Acton famously stated, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

But if all power corrupts, why give it to anyone? It would seem that anarchy, which does not grant anyone power over anyone else, would be the least corruptible. Anarchy, though, is not truly an absence of government, but rather is individual self-rule for every individual. It's a billion tiny dictatorships struggling for resources. Now, while this would preclude all but the most masochistic from being abused by their own government, human nature desires power, and alliances would begin to form among the micro-nations creating gangs and eventually leading to mob rule, a de facto government born of the corruption of the ideal of anarchism. In this way, anarchism is like laissez faire capitalism with power as capital -- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Similarly, alliances and power blocs can form within a direct democracy, and groups can be influenced through propaganda and strong-arm tactics as well as mutual protection schemes like the alliances on Survivor. This decentralization of power does, however, have the advantage over representative democracy that corruption requires direct support from a plurality of voters, rather than simply a few politicians with the ability to conceal their corruption.

A theocracy is arguably the most corruptible, because while it claims to be under the rule of a deity, power is actually concentrated with the leaders of the religion who purport to speak for that deity, but who are as susceptible to human nature as anyone else. In a society fanatical to install a theocracy, this would mean unchecked power for those leaders, and the ability to put down any dissent without reproach. This fact, more than their inherent conservatism and rejection of enlightenment values like freedom of religion, makes theocracy a bad form of government.

An interesting means of discouraging corruption is illustrated in one of the multiple story arcs in Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity: Nova. In this game, there is a race known as the Polarans, who have a strict caste system in which the Mu'hari caste, who among other duties serve as judges, juries and prosecutors, are considered the most disgraceful of all castes and must render assistance to any other Polaran in any way asked. Passing judgement on ones peers is considered the ultimate punishment. This also parallels my own experience as moderator in internet forums, where moderators were encouraged to think of themselves more as janitors than as police officers.

If corruption is what makes a government bad, and government by definition has a level of power that promotes corruption, then it is the ability to keep corruption in check that makes a system of government good. This means that a good government must provide a framework for the public, possibly in addition to the government itself, to limit the government's power and keep its members accountable for their actions. Government transparency and freedom of speech, and particularly of the press, create accountability. If the government is corrupt, it will lose support and, in the absence of a means of replacing officials as provided by democracy, will ultimately be overthrown. Likewise, religious freedom is beneficial to prevent the use of fanaticism to mask corruption. Concepts like term limits and separation of powers with checks and balances are also designed to limit the effectiveness of corruption. The less centralized power is, the more obstacles it must overcome.

What is the best form of government that exists today? Probably some flavor of democracy, but it will never be perfect until corruption can be prevented entirely.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

No Offense (unless you're a Conservative)

Disclaimer: This post is representative of my observations of a very limited number of members of a large group, and may reflect the specific eccentricities of those individuals rather than the group at large.

It appears that social conservatism, ironically, relies on extremely liberal use of the term "offensive". Anything that doesn't fall in line with their strict moral codes is "offensive" to them. They argue that even the expression of such ideas constitute a personal affront to themselves and to anyone else who disagrees with those ideas. Even the advocation of issues that do not affect them in any way, such as the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, is a slap in the face to social conservatives. Those who are more socially progressive, on the other hand, tend to take a more "live and let live" approach.

Are these claims of deep offense in earnest? Are all social conservatives really so thin-skinned as to be genuinely offended simply by the expression of beliefs that counter their own moral dogmas, or are they abusing the term to elicit sympathy for their own unsympathetic attempts to censor other ideas? I guess when you're part of the present-day incarnation of the same movement that opposed ending slavery and extending civil rights and suffrage to women and racial minorities, you need all the sympathy you can get.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Four out of Five Dictators Recommend It

The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy; the best weapon of a democracy is openness.
--Edvard Teller
It has been suggested that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people should have the same right to privacy as those people of whom it is composed. This has specifically been used as an argument for government secrecy with regard to national security.

The government, however, is not a man, nor a woman, nor an individual of any kind. Government is a system of powers and responsibilities imbued on an individual or individuals. In the case of a democratic republic like the United States, they are imbued on citizens (who run for office), by citizens (who vote for them), for citizens (specifically their constituents, whose will they are elected to represent). The individuals of whom the government is comprised have a right to privacy in their capacity as individuals, but the government, which is comprised of people acting in the capacity of that system, has no such right. The powers and responsibilities imbued on the members of a government belong to those who imbue them, and those individuals have the right to know how they are being used. The people cannot be expected to imbue that power without as much knowledge as possible about how that imbuement (is that a word?) has been and will be used.

Sexual acts involving a consenting, adult intern and a cigar, however unethical anyone may find them, are no more the public's business when when they are committed by the president than they are when they are committed by the pizza delivery guy, but every law passed or executive order handed down must be a matter of public record. We cannot stand for a government that can abuse our trust by violating our constitutional rights and the Geneva Conventions and try to hide it from us.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Two-Party System: Evils and Hard Truths

Everyone knows that the two-party system, more often than not, forces voters to choose the lesser of two evils. This is a horrible system that suppresses any true innovation or independent thought, or at least makes them take decades to gain any steam. Instead, voters are forced to choose the party with which they agree on more of several predetermined "wedge issues", or perhaps more accurately with which they disagree on more of those issues. Even the Libertarians, who are the third largest U.S. political party and, according to an august 2000 poll, match the political beliefs of more citizens than either the Left or the Right, can rarely make any headway.

Some argue that the Republicans and the Democrats are just two sides of the same coin, and even that the conflict between them, resembling the perpetual state of war designed to keep citizens in line depicted in George Orwell's 1984, is a collusion between the leaders of the parties to perpetuate the two party system. It's also been suggested that the Republican party's current faults can be attributed to a conspiracy involving it wearing the villain mask so that the Democrats, wearing the hero mask in November and in 2008, can ride in and make people feel better about the two party system.

The system sucks, and we should do all we can to change it, but we still have to work within it until its fixed. With the exception of the few areas where a third party has a chance, voting in the US is not done by voting for the candidate you want in office, it's done by voting against the candidate that you don't want in office. I don't lean toward the Democratic party, I lean away from the Republican party. Voting for Democratic candidates is a vote against the Republicans, which is severely needed at this point. We need to shake up the two-party system, which will take time, but we also need to undo the damage of the current administration, which we can make huge strides toward in the short-term by removing Republican politicians.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How small is too small?

I'm all for a small government with minimal red tape, but there are some that take this too far. While some bureaucracy is required, it's generally something that should be minimized. A government must, however, be large enough to ensure the necessary separation of powers. It is essential for our government's organization to ensure no one person, or group of people, for that matter, can exercise absolute power. After all, the smallest government is a single dictator.

I used to assume that the Republican party's push for small government was a sincere belief in decreasing unnecessary bureaucracy, but it's clear now that the party, at least the branch of it that is currently in power, is abusing this conception to centralize power in violation of the Constitution. Bush has labeled himself "The Decider", which is an obvious euphemism for a dictator. Of the three branches, the executive (headed by the president) has the least business deciding anything. The legislative branch decides on laws, and the judicial branch decides on the interpretation of those laws. The executive branch should only carry-out these decisions.

Conservatism is in direct conflict with democracy. Conservatives want the power of the few to dominate the many, and this is exactly what democracy is an attempt to prevent.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pardon me, what the hell?

"This week, the Senate is planning to quietly hold a vote that would pardon President Bush for breaking the law by illegally wiretapping innocent Americans. So far, Democrats and some Republicans are holding strong against the bill, and there are good chances to stop it if enough of us speak up."

It's bad enough that S. 2453 (pdf) would extent the the president's already outrageous ability to spy on citizens, but to excuse his blatant and unconstitutional past violations of our civil liberties is unconscionable.

Civil disobedience is a great tool for protesting unjust laws, and it makes little sense to continue to punish convicts for infractions that are no longer illegal, but regardless of the fact that this isn't such a law, this needs to be punished whether the law is changed or not. Sit-ins never violated the rights of anyone; Bush's illegal wiretaps have violated the rights of everyone. This was not civil disobedience. He was entrusted with the single most powerful political office in the world, and along with that, he gave up the right to any disobedience. The simple act of using his power to violate a law, unjust or otherwise, proves a disrespect for the law that is entirely unacceptable for someone with that kind of power, and he needs to be removed from office immediately.

contact your senators | digg story

Monday, September 18, 2006

Journey to the Center

Another trend I've noticed is the tendency of those in all areas of the spectrum to claim to be closer to the "center" than their opponents. By labeling the opposition as extremists, they hope to discredit their ideas as unacceptable to the general populace, while making their own seem "normal". The irony of this is that those who employ this tactic are the ones who need to push the idea of "center" toward their own beliefs, the extremists. Because "true" centrists, if there is such a thing, generally don't disagree with either side as strongly as the opposite side does, they rarely feel compelled to join in such debates, and there is nobody to defend the idea of the "true" center.

Who are they trying to convince? Does anyone actually hold political beliefs because they believe that they are widely-accepted? "Really? That's what most people believe? I guess I should believe that too." You wanna know a secret? Most people are idiots. They're lemmings who didn't even choose for themselves which cliff to march off of, so why would those who do think for themselves be swayed by what the majority of these lemming believe, let alone what opposing extremists claim that that majority believes? Political debate isn't about where we are, it's about where we're going. Or more accurately, it's about where we believe that we should be going.

I am an extremist. More than that, I'm a radical. I want to see positive change in my lifetime. Maybe it's just because I'm still young enough for idealism, but time has fixed many of the nation's evils like slavery and segregation, and with so many more that still exist, I think its stupid to slow this progress by hanging on to the way things are. We shouldn't be seeking the center, we should be seeking the future.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Capitalization matters... but not really

Warning: sweeping generalizations ahead. Read accordingly.

I've noticed a trend in discussion of politics on the internet. I'm sure it's not universally true, but all of the Liberals (political ideology) that I've been in contact with are also more liberal (a philosophy of open-mindedness, tolerance, freedom from prejudice and bigotry, even avant-gardeness) than the Conservatives (another political ideology), who are also conservative (a philosophy of closed-mindednes, obstinacy and inflexibility). This is specifically evidenced in Campaigns Wikia, where those who identify with the Liberal side of the political spectrum encourage the expression of diverse perspectives and try to eschew US-centricity, while the more Conservative (a faction that is unfortunately smaller, and may not be an accurate sample group) are prone to attempt to suppress views that differ from their own and favor separating users by nationality.

Is this coincidence, a result of external factors, or is there a causal relationship? The idea of wikis, which allow anyone to edit and advocate positive contribution rather than limitation, is inherently liberal. This, combined with the correlation discussed above, explains the general dominance of Liberalism among wiki editors, but why aren't there more conservative Liberals or liberal Conservatives? Does a generally liberal philosophy lead to Liberalism, and a conservative philosophy to Conservatism? Do the political ideologies lead to the philosophies? Is there some other explanation?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The New Reichstag Fire

I know I'm committing the cardinal sin of comparing those I disagree with to Hitler, but I can't help the fact that it's accurate. Anyone who hasn't seen this video (embedded below) needs to. In the video, David Ray Griffin presents undeniable evidence of a coverup of the events surrounding the 9/11 attack from his book, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions And Distortions. His previous book, The New Pearl Harbor discusses evidence that 9/11 was an attempt to stage PNAC's "new Pearl Harbor".

The problem is, this is not a new Pearl Harbor, it's a new Reichstag Fire. It didn't force us out of isolationism and into an existing war, it generated the public support that an authoritarian political party with dreams of world domination needed for a war that it had already planned, and in both cases, there is strong evidence that leaders of that party (Nazi/Neoconservative) were at least complicit in the planning and execution of the attack.

This would not be the first time that elements within our government have proposed use of this tactic. Who wouldn't support going to war against an enemy who we believed had attacked us on our own soil? But we have to ask ourselves, who is the real enemy, and who are the collaborators?

The Reichstag Fire ultimately lead to World War II. Are we in World War III now? I sure hope not, because if we are, we're on the wrong side.

digg story

Friday, September 15, 2006

A few good blogs

I haven't been really into politics that long, and I'm looking for a few good political blogs to add to my currently tech-heavy list. I'm pretty much in the libertarian/left area of the political spectrum, but I'd like to get some that represent other beliefs as well. Please post your recommendations in the comments.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Axiom of Government

The Axiom of Government is a theory I've been working on for a while. Quite simply, the theory is that the sole purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, and that the justness of any action is determined by whether or not it logically follows from this axiom. For example, a government maintains a military to protect its citizens from external threats, and a police force to protect them from internal threats. Censorship interferes with citizens' rights to information and free speech, so it is unjust. Imprisoning or otherwise restricting the rights of criminals is done to protect the rights (including the right to life) of other citizens who are their potential victims, so it is just.

Are you with me so far?

Ok, let's try a more controversial issue: same-sex marriage. According to the Axiom of Government, since the sole purpose of government is to protect its citizens' rights, a law that abridges rights for any other reason would be wrong.

What's that? You don't think same-sex marriage is a right? Well, it doesn't really have to be, because it shouldn't be outlawed unless it violates one, but let's explore further.

Why do people think that it should be outlawed? "Because it's wrong." What makes it wrong? "It's immoral." What makes it immoral? At this point, you'll usually get a response along the lines of "Because [insert religious text or leader here] says it's wrong, possibly with some "family values" BS along the way. Ah, here's the issue. That "[insert religious text or leader here]" part is important, because every religion has different ones that say different things about different issues (many even contradict themselves, but that's beside the point), and some people don't believe in any of these. They have the the freedom, and in fact, the right, to choose their own religious beliefs and values. Since these values differ, imposing the values of one religion on citizens who may believe in another violates their right to religious freedom. This demonstrates that the Separation of Church and State is included in the Axiom of Government.

So laws can't be made based on religious values. They can't be made based on what's moral or ethical. They can't outlaw something because it's "wrong", an action can only be prevented by a government because it violates the citizens' rights, and since allowing same-sex marriage doesn't violate a right, a law against it is unjust whether same-sex marriage is a right or not.

Notice, this is not saying whether it's right or wrong, only that a government doesn't have the right to decide that for its citizens.