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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Episode 81: The Small Government Paradox

The notion that “the government which governs least, governs best” is a widely held belief in conservative circles. The idea is a smaller government with less regulation is a more efficient system that will build an economy and trickle down wealth from the top 1% to the bottom strata of the socio-economic pyramid. I do not disagree with the theory entirely, yet time and time again, it is evident that in practice, this political philosophy does not work in practical applications

In layman politics, we tend to view “trickle down” economics solely from a dollars-and-cents standpoint. This is the source of middle class frustration with the “trickle-down” theory: most people never see any tangible benefits of the system, tangible meaning a couple extra zeros in their tax return. If we dive beyond the superficial meaning of the phrase, the trickle down system does to some capacity, work. Take for instance, cell phones. There was a time when only the elite were able to own PDA cell phones like Blackberries. Now everyone and their grandmother own an iPhone. We take it for granted that millions of dollars of investments by regular folk have paved the way for the downsizing of cell phones, and creating a market that drove down the prices of phones and its services.

Unfortunately, this economic model only works in isolated cases. When we apply the idea of small government – one with fewer regulations – to a mass scale, the model becomes broken. The primary reason why small government doesn’t work is because somewhere along the line, being a politician transformed from being a civic duty, to becoming a job, to ending up as a business venture. Elections are no longer about message, agenda, or policies; it is about building a brand. Take for instance, the special election in Massachusetts. Conservatives are quick to chalk up the victory of Scott Brown as a sign of failed Democratic policies, the rising influence of the conservative/libertarian tea bagger movement, or a repudiation of Obama’s agenda. Scott Brown won because he is a better brand than his opponent. Brown ran as the inexperienced, but energetic, charismatic, lofty ideologue. Sound familiar? A hint: it is the same brand message that helped Obama win the White House. As in fashion, one moment you’re in, the next moment, you’re out. Inexperienced lofty ideologues are in.

If there is one thing we can agree on as a nation no matter your political persuasion, it’s that America has lost its path, focus, and vision. We are flying by the seat of our pants double blindfolded. Part of the reason our country has lost its path is because of brand name politics. When politics transformed from civic duty, to becoming a job, to ending up as a business venture, the only part of our democracy we actually control is the process of electing our CEO – err, politician. After we vote someone into office, that politician is on autopilot for as long as their term lasts, barring a major scandal. While on autopilot, their message, agenda, and policy is dictated by the special interest groups that invested into the winning candidate’s election. Obama’s brand for example, which is seemingly stronger than Nike, was largely funded by the people. Middle-class people. Middle-class people who are part of labor unions and federal and state institutions. The auto bailout makes a bit more sense now doesn’t it? Thus when we vote, it makes more sense to focus on the candidates political contributors and not the slogans, rhetoric, or town hall speeches. No matter what any politician says on the stump, they are at the mercy of their investors, just like any other business. Thus, the only politician one could hope to trust, is one who paid for their own campaign out of pocket.

America has, over the last few decades, slowly transformed into an aristocracy. Three hundred million people are being controlled by fifty senators, four hundred thirty five representatives, nine judges, and one president. Add in governors, state senators, and the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and America truly and mathematically is run by the top 1% of its population. Hence the problem with small government ideology: small government causes its citizens to surrender its sovereignty to the top 1% of our population who never has, never intended to, and never will have the best interests of its constituency at heart. The only thing that motivates businesses, and consequently politicians, is money, and an incentive to make more money. The irony is the democrats and republican citizens often go to such great lengths to disturb the political process with incessant bickering, slander, and non-cooperation, while the top 1% continues to profit off our own fears and ignorance. In other words, republicans vehemently defend the very people who are destroying the American freedoms they hold so dear, while democrats ignorantly contribute to the political machine via government expansion that destroys their own “agenda.”

The solution to the problem is not clear cut. Nor will it be solved any foreseeable future as it requires a great many people to surrender the power they enjoy. However there are a few ideas I hypothesized that would at least be a step in the right direction. First, we must abolish special interest funding in political campaigns as well as special interest lobbyists. Obama has pledged to do this, and it is indeed an empty promise, for he is just as connected to the political machines as his conservative adversaries. Second, we must limit the number of terms any politician can serve. The politicians most deeply and inextricably intertwined with the political machine are those who have been in office for decades. We need to put the “public” back into public service, and extricate the private sector out of politics all together. Then perhaps there is a chance we can once again reclaim our democracy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Episode 80: Politics Is Depressing =(

May God bless the souls of all those who have the strength, courage, and fortitude to make daily, more many days a weekly blog entries, newspaper, and magazine articles about politics. There was a time when talking about politics was kinda fun wasn’t it? The topic du jour would be something like health care reform, or clean air, or green tech. We used to debate about our ideological differences. If there is one thing about this blog that makes me proud, every single person (we... almost everyone) came to the debate with great ideas and expressed them in intelligent ways that got a really good dialogue going.

Part of what made these debates great was the having fresh topics to talk about. Topics that really get the brain juices a-flowing. When I read the paper or watch the news, nothing is really interesting. It is the same ol’ same ol’. Mission failed Mr. President. It’s not entirely your fault Mr. President. I mean, your own teammates on the left side of the aisle showed so much promise during the election. The way you united the democratic party is a feat that has never been accomplished in politics. Let’s face it, democrats are notorious for lacking a single cohesive message. However Mr. President, even your magnanimity isn’t enough to prevent the levies of democratic hodgepodgery™ (copyright TheLaw©2009) from breaking. And by the way, F Olympia Snow. Seriously. Her stance is basically “if you take this perfectly democratic bill, strip it of all its merit and benefits so it is basically a republican bill (lacking substance and almost completely ineffective), I will put my tentative signature on it that MAY change later.”

And the republicans? That party is a complete joke. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a third time, a complete joke. Did you hear about the Minnesota senator who proposed that there be an amendment to a government contract to give women the right to sue if they have been raped? The victim in question was gang raped ladies and gentlemen. What should be an obvious no-brainer was met by opposition from… ding ding ding! the republicans! They’re a joke. Did you hear about the crowd of people who cheered because the United States was rejected from getting the 2016 games? They talk about patriotism, and then sneer at the most public display of national pride! A joke! Did you hear about Rush Limbaugh who is a closet racist who wanted to buy an NFL team in which 70% of its players black? LMAO. And this is news from the past month! The list is too long.

Politics is too depressing, especially during football season. Football makes me happy. I don’t feel like being sad and depressed anymore when thinking of the future of this nation, so I think for the time being I'll take the "ignorance is bliss route, and listen to ESPN radio lol. There is nothing to talk about anymore. All you get from republicans is “Obama sucks.” All you get from democrats is “republicans suck.” No matter how many stats and number people throw out there, we’re no longer having useful conversations about politics, because it’s not happening in the media, and most importantly in Washington. I suppose this is why most Americans don’t even bother trying to get this stuff. Maybe when our elected officials decide to act like grownups again, politics would be fun to talk about again?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Episode 79/Episode 2: Obama’s Peace Prize

Before I begin, I have a new format. For now on, when a post has a corresponding L Comment radio show topic, there will be two episodes posted. That way, when you leave comments, I will respond to them on the radio show! I’m figuring out how to do a live broadcast, but that’s still some time away, so this will have to do!

Now, moving on to the story, I will begin by saying, congratulations Mr. President! Look, the Nobel Peace Prize is not just an achievement award. It is also a political tool to promote peaceful agenda. Obama is the leader of the free world. No matter what our shortcomings are as a nation, we are the ones the world looks to first for answers. We have a president who is willing to listen to all sides of the argument, no matter who is delivering it. That kind of mentality goes a long way towards breaking down years of mistrust. We’re already seeing better cooperation in Russia and China.

Name calling is a bit out of my character, but I have to say, the Republican Party is a joke. Why is every single thing in this political landscape about scoring political points? The right wing in this party is so far out of touch with the way the world works it’s incredible. Forget Rush Limbaugh, as far as I’m concerned, if Obama ended world hunger, he’d spin it as a leftist big government controlling the food supply. I’m talking about the Boehners and the Steeles of the party who fail to recognize the challenge the Nobel committee bestowed upon the country. In fact, the republican game ball goes to John McCain when he said "we're proud when our President receives an award of that prestigious category… but I think part of their decision making was expectations, and I’m sure the President understands that he now has even more to live up to.”

Way to go McCain. That’s really being a maverick. A damn shame, when being a maverick means doing the right thing. Of course the right wingers will say “well John McCain isn’t a real republican… he sold out.”

This peace prize in my eyes is the world asking America to step in and take charge of the global peace initiative. What better icon than arguably the most popular man in the world to lead the charge. Can we for once, as Obama said in his inauguration, set aside childish things, and come together as one nation and help our president lead the way to a safer America and safer world? Or would you rather bicker and argue until it’s too late to get things done?

Agree with me? Think I’m full of crap? Leave your comments below, and they will be addressed on tomorrow’s show.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Episode 78: Sanction This: Political Chess Games

Before I begin, I have an announcement: The L Comment is 1 year old today!! This blog is my 5th try at blogging and this is the first one to bear fruit. I want to thank all the readers of this blog for reading!! This blog has accomplished my main goal of having civilized political discourse with people from many political persuasions. And may I say, the kind of dialogue has FAR exceeded expectations. You guys are awesome, and I thank you very much for coming back for more debates!

Onto the news of the day, it seems Iran has come clean with a new nuclear facility being built. Now if Bush said Iran was developing a nuclear program and not Iraq, we’d have to re-evaluate history because he’d be right. I’m not surprised by this, and I doubt anyone in Washington is either, because all the candidates of the election brought up this possibility during the 2008 campaign. Furthermore, we already knew about one facility and its location, information that Obama has shared with Russia and China to get them on board to place sanctions on Iran.

From the same CNN article linked above, this passage is key:
"It is not at all surprising that Iran would want this news to come out now," Ingram said. "It strengthens their hand."

The fact that Iran has proactively informed the world helps Iran diplomatically in conducting nuclear negotiations, Ingram said, adding that to characterize this second facility as a covert operation is misleading. The Iranians have yet to start production at Qom and are revealing it before that happens.

"It will be seen as an indication that they are willing to play by the rules, and this will make it more difficult to persuade them to abandon enrichment," Ingram said.

I’m not a doomsday conspiracy theorist by any means, but we have to read between the lines here. Iran’s aggressive approach has failed every single time they’ve tried it. Now with the US, China, and Russia in the fledgling stages of a alliance here, Iran is backed against the corner. Typically when the enemy is backed against a corner, they fight harder than ever before. As Muhammad Ali proved, the rope-a-dope strategy works pretty well…

This is how I see this playing out. Iran pretends to cooperate. They follow all the rules, abide by the sanctions, and the world let’s go of the leash a bit. Meanwhile, in a cave somewhere, weapons are being developed. Now if they attack, their target will likely be Israel. If this happens, we have to defend our allies. If our relations hold up, we’ll have Russia and China, as well as England, France, and Canada as allied nations. Iran will have Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq as allies. That’s going be a really tough fight.

This development has made me revisit my previous post. Afghanistan is no longer about the Taliban. If this impending war happens, Afghanistan is going to be a very important piece. The equivalent of the center squares of a chess board. Having Afghanistan as an ally gives the US Allies a strong position on the battlefield. If the Taliban take over the region, a war with the Middle East will prove to be very difficult. Thus, in light of this story, I think it may not be a bad idea to fight the Afghan war because all of a sudden, we have a very good reason for winning that war. The objective is simple: eradicate the Taliban.

I hope to God that I’m wrong and this is all gross over analysis. However, if I’m right, or even 50% right, it is very possible the 2,000 year struggle in the Middle East may be over in my lifetime. WWIII may very well be called Jihad for real, perhaps Crusade II. The main advantage would be that this war is against countries, not ideology. There are parameters for victory and failure and its nation vs. nation, rather than nation vs. terrorism.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Episode 77: P.S. We’re In a War

If you take a look at the news programs and blogs of late, the topic du jour is healthcare, and rightly so, as we are nearing a vote that could have a profound impact on the lives of Americans for several generations to come. Diving deeper into the subject, we find a lot of hyperbole from both sides of the isle, using buzzwords like “death panels” and “if we don’t reform healthcare, you’ll die faster” etc. Taking a glance at the blogosphere I took a hiatus from for a bit, it seems no one is talking about the fact we’re in a war. And generals want MORE troops!

I’m having a lot of trouble understanding what a victory in Afghanistan looks like. Does it mean we establish a free democracy there that the people don’t want? Do we secure an oil interest that doesn’t exist in that country? Do we capture a rugged, mountainous region, with awful weather (really, really hot or really, really cold), and surrounded by enemies in each direction to gain some kind of tactical advantage?

I’m of the opinion that we need to cut our losses and just bring our troops home. After eight years, a few blown opportunities to catch the true enemy Osama bin Laden, and the non-existent support from home and abroad, there is no victory to be had in Iraq. Let’s say we found Osama tomorrow and he caught him, hung him, and put his head on a rusty iron platter (because silver would be too good for him), then what? Is the War on Terror, sorry, the War on Al Qaeda, over at that point? Did we really spend $10 Billion to capture and kill one man? As far as I’m concerned, bin Laden is a target of opportunity at this point.

I have good news however. I know how to win the war on whatever you want to call it. The answer is so simple, you may kick yourself for not thinking of it sooner. The answer is to flat out leave Iraq. This is what happens when we do: The Taliban will declare our withdrawal as a victory. From an article from the NY TIMES, Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban was recently reported saying “Today we have strong determination, military training and effective weapons,” the message said. “Still more, we have preparedness for a long war, and the regional situation is in our favor. Therefore, we will continue to wage jihad until we gain independence and force the invaders to pull out.” Given Afghanistan’s nearly perfect track record of thwarting all forces that have invaded them for the past 2000 something years, I’m inclined to agree with him.

In response to our leaving, most of the “alliance” will also pull out. The Taliban will not attack America because they got what they want – the removal of western influence from their land. The Taliban will complete take over Afghanistan. Then one of two things will happen, their regime will be so suppressive, the world will have to rejoin the war effort under the banner of human rights (ie. WWII and Kosovo) or Afghans will spent about 5 years being miserable. If scenario 1 happens, the world will be dragged into another unwinnable war until a smart guy like me concludes we need to leave, and the process starts again and moves to scenario 2 – the Afghans will engage in a civil war against the Taliban. The people will rebel the oppression, and crush the Taliban forever. Then a coalition led by the U.S. will come back in a humanitarian mission to rebuild Afghanistan, establish a working democracy, and other nations in the region, empowered by Afghanistan’s success will follow suit.

The main point is, victory from oppressors have never been achieved from outside forces extinguishing the problem for the oppressed. From the Battle of Thermopylae, to the storming of the Bastille, to War of 1812, or from The American Revolution, Civil War, and Civil Rights movement, no struggle has been solved from the help of external powers. The same is true for Afghanistan. It has been said there’s no such thing as good wars, but there is such a thing as necessary ones. I think the only way to truly secure American security interests is to leave and let them fight their own battle. They will win, because the oppressor always loses in the end. We will win because we’ll have an ally and will be safer from terrorist attacks. The world will win because young people want to blog and twitter, and new governments in the region will rise that will allow their people to do those things.

Let’s refocus our lens back to the present day. We talk about how much money healthcare is going to cost, but I don’t hear those detractors talking about the budgetary black hole of the war in Afghanistan. The generals there want more troops which mean more money. We’re fighting an enemy that is damn near unbeatable with no real understanding of what victory means. It makes very little sense with respect to our domestic interests to continue to invest in a war with no end and no exit strategy. Wars cannot be fought unless the economy is in war mode. This means domestic production of tanks, armor, guns, bullets, etc. Wars shouldn’t be a part of the budget ledger like Medicare, Cash for Clunkers and office supplies. If we are unwilling to commit this economy into a war economy, then we should be equally unwilling to participate in this fruitless campaign. This doesn’t negate the tremendous work our soldiers do each and every day. It doesn’t make their deaths and injuries in vain. On the contrary, our missions have given us greater clarity on how to proceed. Perhaps this endless war in the Middle East may have a light at the end of the tunnel in our lifetime.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Episode 76: Mini Hiatus

Hello all! As you were probably well aware, I've been gone from the blogosphere for a bit. I've been on some business trips and have a final one this week to wrap things up. I just wanted to drop by quickly and write a quick note to let you, my dear readers, know there is TONS of new content soon!!

Upon my return Monday, I'll be getting back to the health care debate with my good friend and conservative blogger New Conservative Generation (I didn't forget about you!). I have lots of new ideas on health care, the war, energy, the economy (which finally seems to be recovering!) and plenty of political philosophy to write about. Also, The L Comment: Sunday Comment radio show will be launching two Sundays from now if all goes well! New Conservative Generation has already volunteered to be my first guest host, and I hope all of you will tune in!

Sit tight guys, I'll be back soon, and I greatly look forward to reading your blogs again as well!