Monday, August 30, 2010

Where I parted ways with FreedomWorks

Let me start off by saying that I still frequent the Freedom Works website.  I recently read an interview on there that made me rethink my views on the organization and the Tea Party movement.

In the interview, some higher up from the organization (I forget who) kept mentioning that the organization is currently trying to "take back the Republican Party."  Well, here's a few issues I have with that.  The first is that the organization has consistently said that it does not take stances on issues like gay marriage, abortion, foreign wars, etc. because it is focused on fiscal and financial freedom.  Fair enough.  But by not taking a stand on these organizations, and supporting a party which largely does, Freedom Works implicitly supports the Republican status quo stance on these issues, which offends my sensibilities.

Second of all, before overtly coming out as a a movement to "take back the Republican Party," the Tea Party movement and Freedom Works were a sign of hope for real, systemic change.  By supporting any candidate, Republican, Libertarian, Democratic or otherwise, who agreed with them on the issues, the Tea Party movement and Freedom Works represented a real threat to the Republican Party as it was.

In an odd way, openly trying to take over a political party strengthens that party, even the parts of it we don't like.  By encouraging thousands of Tea Party and Freedom Works activists to become active in the Republican Party, the organization is implicitly supporting the Republican Party.  Yes, they may put a lot of fiscally conservative Republicans on ballots and even in office.  But when one of the RINOs they are trying to stop gets nominated, they're also encouraging people to vote Republican, and that RINO will get elected.

What candidates, organizations, and movements trying to change one of the two major parties need to do is show their willingness to give up on that party.  Freedom Works should be encouraging voters to vote Democratic, or especially Libertarian, IAP, or Constitutional, in races where the Republican candidate is not up to par.  By showing that voters are willing to leave a party they don't think represents them, they put real pressure on the party to change.  By trying to change a political party from within, we just show the parties that they need to have barely enough candidates, barely far enough to one side of a couple of issues, to keep Tea Party activists voting.

So instead of trying to take back the Republican Party, show them who's in charge around here.  If the candidates don't meet your standards, look at third party candidates.  Look at independents.  Maybe even take a glance at the Democrat running.  Show the Republican Party that being "better than the Democrats" isn't enough.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Political and Social Reasons Not To Do Drugs

I thought I would take a few minutes to share my thoughts on why, aside from the health and personal problems, and legal risks, anyone, but especially the socially liberal, should not use illegal drugs.

Keep in mind that as a Libertarian, I acknowledge that most of these reasons are more related to the ridiculous War on Drugs and the unconstitutional prohibition on recreational narcotic use in the United States.  Until, however, our current drug policy changes, there are several political, social, and moral reasons why anyone (but especially leftists) should refrain from illegal drug use.

First of all, the violence.  Both on the streets of the United States, and across the world, the drug trade is full of violence and death.  How many people died in the process of growing, processing, packaging, and relocating the bowl of pot that you just smoked?

More important to the leftists, however, is that drugs are really a weapon in class warfare.  I mean that in several ways.  First of all, when was the last time the head of a major cartel or street gang was imprisoned?  I can't remember.  The "major" busts that we read about on the news involve the discovery of large quantities of drugs and money.  Well, in the world these cartels operate in, both drugs and money are replaceable.  So are the poor, who are usually the people (whether in America or abroad) apprehended with the money and drugs.  With technology and financial options becoming more enhanced, when was the last time someone at the top of one of these criminal organizations was stopped?  Even when they are, they serve out their sentences in white collar prisons.  Or, in some foreign countries, like Colombia, where Escobar served, in prisons that are more like personal palaces.  Do you think that anyone was shuttling the street level pushers who went down for selling Escobar's coke to and from soccer games?

Let's look at the classist aspects of the illegal drug trade from start to finish.

Production.  Poor farmers are the most likely to be tempted (or pressured) into growing coca, heroin, and marijuana.  In fact, the class war aspect of this goes back beyond this decision.  Many drug producing regions are the victims of protectionist U.S. agricultural policies.  For years, Latin American countries enjoyed thriving exports of sugar, bananas, and coffee to the United States.  Suddenly, when Asian countries could produce the same products, and gained "favored nation" status, the Latin Americans couldn't compete.  When American countries moved directly into East Asian nations (i.e. Thailand, Indonesia, etc.), often subsidized by the United States governments, Latin American farmers were left high and dry.

These are the farmers targeted by the wealthy individuals behind the Latin American end of the drug trade.  They don't have much to lose, and have a lot to gain.  Because of U.S. subsidies to its farmers and manufacturers, even many products used in their own countries are imported from outside the region.  Due to U.S. and Latin American subsidies, the small farmers cannot afford to compete with the large, corporate farms.  They have small family plots which they are risking, but the gains can be huge.  It is, in fact, these farmers, not the Escobars, Ochoas, or other cartel-heading families, who suffer when fields are fumigated or burned.  The cartels will move on to the next farmer.  The rural poor have lost their crop and their only source of income.

In trafficking, money, drugs, and big players are kept as separate as possible.  This means that the individuals actually carrying drugs across international borders are unlikely to be the wealthy individuals responsible for either the U.S. or the international aspects of the business.  At one time, they were likely to be fairly wealthy, as they probably owned boats or planes.  With improved enforcement of the U.S. border, however, the methods for trafficking drugs have changed.  It is now far more likely that an individual will be driving a car with false panels, or even carrying drugs inside their body.  The "mules" who are recruited to do this are usually poor and desperate individuals, either looking to make fast cash and a paid-for vacation, or looking for the financial means to enter the United States.  At the very least, they put their freedom in jeopardy.  At worst, they engage in physically dangerous methods of transporting narcotics, including swallowing, or inserting into their body in other ways, condoms and balloons filled with highly toxic chemicals.  Meanwhile, the cartel leaders sit at home at either end of the route collecting the payouts.  The violence has erupted (again) in the border cities of northern Mexico.  Do you think the real movers and shakers in the drug trade are anywhere near this border?  Were any of their daughters disappearing on bus rides home from maquiladores in Juarez for the last 20 years?  Were any of their heads found on the steps of an Acapulco night club?  No.  The poor along the Mexican border, and throughout the coastal states of Mexico, are the ones suffering right now.

When drugs hit the streets, again, the drugs, the money, and the key players are kept separate.  The violence of street gangs is directed at other low-level players in the game, and the police often apprehend these low level players, since they are the ones actually making physical transactions involving the drugs.  Meanwhile, gang leaders sit at home and collect the money.

Even drug use is classist and prejudiced.  While middle aged, middle class white users, along with celebrities and star athletes, use the (relatively) safe and pure drugs (cocaine, marijuana, abusing prescriptions, etc.); people of color, gays, and the youth often wind up caught up in more synthetic, processed, and therefor dangerous drugs, like crack cocaine, crystal meth, and ecstasy.

Even enforcement is skewed along racist, homophobic, ageist, and classist lines.  The penalties for crack, crystal meth, and ecstasy use are relatively harsh compared to those for other drugs, with ecstasy (used by the youth, but mostly the upper-middle class white youth) having strangely lenient requirements for crossing from misdemeanor "personal" use to felony "commercial" use.  This leads to a cycle of young, poor people of color being killed by and incarcerated for drug use at a higher rate than their older, wealthier, straighter, and whiter counterparts.

In fact, the imprisonment for drug use among poor youth, and in particular poor youth of color, could very well be seen as perpetuating the racial gap in this country.  Poor teens of color are put into prisons and juvenile detention facilities for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes associated with drug possession.  There, they are locked up with and surrounded by killers, burglars, rapists, and other violent criminals.  To survive, they often must turn to prison gangs.  These prison gangs teach them how to become hardened criminals.  When they are released, they have new knowledge, new skills, and new connections, which enable them to enter deeper into the world of crime.  We send away young black men as kids who may have experimented with, or even sold a bag or two of, drugs.  When they are released, they are criminals, with few options, and fewer inhibitions.

What proponents of drug use need to realize is this.  The real culprits here, and the ones making the real money off of all of this pain and suffering, are not the street level dealers.  They are successful business men, sitting in mansions in California, Florida, New York, Chicago, and around the world.  They have stash houses full of cash, and bank accounts with lots of zeros.  And they are all connected.  So when you smoke a bowl of your (you think) guilt free pot, or do a line of your (you think) safe cocaine, you are actually supporting the same network of wealthy, middle aged men who are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Again, I acknowledge that the ultimate responsibility for many of these deaths actually lies in the oppressive prohibition on personal choice which has been imposed by the U.S. government when it comes to drugs.  We spend millions of dollars, and take millions of lives, in an attempt to control our individual choices.  My first suggestion would be that everyone advocate for a sensible drug policy in the United States.  Until that happens, however, anyone who leans to the left politically, or who is socially and morally conscious, should stop using illegal drugs.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Immigration: Liberalize, Modernize, Enforce

So illegal immigration is a huge buzz subject right now, so I figured I would take a minute to lay out what I think is the ideal immigration plan.  It is a three pronged approach, and all three are necessary in order for the program to be successful.

First, we need to liberalize immigration policy.  Make immigration into the United States by those seeking opportunities for gainful economic activity easier.  Free flow of information and people is key to a successful free market economy, and we must make our borders more open to people who can add to our society, whether by taking jobs considered undesirable by many Americans, or by providing skilled labor or an educational background to their employers.  Or, for that matter, by offering their labor at a lower rate, and thus serving to balance what is an increasingly inflated labor market in the United States.  Liberalizing immigration policy also makes it more obvious that the type of people who still continue to enter our borders illegally are not the type of people we want to have here.

Second, modernize.  Make agreements with other countries allowing us access to certain criminal records of those seeking to enter the United States.  Allow people to apply for visas online, and process those applications online.  Make all visas (even tourist visas) digital, to improve enforcement.  Use biometrics to track people and ensure they are who they (and their documents) say they are at the border.  Also, modernize both the public and government conversation on "border" security.  Borders are no longer only on the edge of our country, or on land.  They are no longer marked by a fence, a river, or a highway.  Borders are present at every international air and sea port in this country.  Borders are present anywhere there is a private air strip.  Border security matters everywhere, not just in California, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.

Finally, enforce.  Regardless of whether the laws which prevented them from legally entering our country are the best laws or not, the people who are here illegally are criminals.  Whether they were or were not before, they are now.  Enforce current immigration laws, and do so in a manner strict enough to discourage future violations.  Enforce the laws intelligently, too.  Don't just patrol border cities.  Follow up on tourist and seasonal work visas.  Did these people leave the country?  This goes back to modernizing.  Instead of a simple stamp on a passport, or a separate piece of paper, visas should be digitally available information.  At best, this would allow ICE to track down anyone on an overstayed visa.  At the very least, if this were linked electronically either to the passport itself, or to an electronic card required of anyone using a foreign passport as ID, it could greatly impair those on overstayed visas.  For instance, if they tried to go get a driver's license or state ID, their license should expire when their visa expires.  If they try to renew, they would not be allowed to, and ICE agents could be notified.  If they try to fly, they would not be able to check in (except to International flights) with an expired visa card.  If they try to open a bank account, or conduct any other business which requires an ID, their visa status would become clear.

It may sound odd that a Libertarian would propose tougher immigration enforcement.  First of all, keep in mind that I do advocate a more open immigration policy.  The new enforcement would be of less stringent requirements.  Second, anyone who has read or seen anything on human trafficking lately knows that in addition to many who are here for their own purposes, many individuals who are not properly documented, or who overstay visas, are not here on their own accord anyway.  Following up on every overstayed visa would greatly improve the likelihood of discovering and rescuing trafficked women and children.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Legalize It!

The other day, I saw this interview at Reason on marijuana policy, and it caught my attention.  Could our decades old losing "War" on drugs finally be coming to an end?  With the issue appearing on the ballot in California, and mainstream medical and mental health professionals (even some, like Dr. Fichtner, who have a government background) coming out in support of legalization, we could be there.

Poll numbers show that increasing numbers of Americans support, or at the least, don't oppose, the legalization of marijuana.  In fact, I'm guessing that polls, petitions, and other actions actually underestimate the number of people who strongly support liberalization of drug laws.  Many drug users (especially the stereotypical paranoid pothead) do not publicly support legalization because they don't want their names associated with a taboo subject, and one which could have serious legal, professional, and personal ramifications.

Do I agree with Dr. Fichtner that marijuana legalization is the key to pulling us out of the recession?  Not entirely.

I don't think pot is the next technology or real estate sector.

On the other hand, by legalizing marijuana, we could probably reduce federal and state budget deficits.  Prisons would be less crowded, ICE agents could focus on stopping human trafficking, potential terrorists, and hard drug trafficking.  Local law enforcement agencies would not be paying officers to search high school students' pockets for pot and pipes.

Moreover, the tax revenues generated by adding this product to the above ground market would be huge.  The savings to the average user would also be significant, possibly providing some sort of stimulus spending on the pothead's part.

The lowered medical and law enforcement costs from reduced gang activity resulting from removing the most used illegal substance from the black market would be huge.

Is legalized pot going to save our economy?  Probably not.

Will it help, even a little?  Absolutely.

Is this just one more reason to add to an already long list to support legalization of marijuana and an end to our War on Drugs?  Absolutely.

Californians, potheads and Libertarians everywhere are watching you this November.  Continue to lead the way on this issue.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Paul Ryan's views on social medicine

I saw this over at Conservative Outpost, and it was quite interesting to me.

I think that Paul Ryan is on to something here.  Many conservatives use arguments involving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to point out what is wrong with Obamacare, and, in particular, the ways in which the cost estimates for the system are likely lower than the realistic costs of the program.

Why, then, when these conservatives were in office, were all three of these programs continued (and sometimes even expanded)?  If Obamacare is truly evil, guess what, so are these other government-run healthcare programs.  When we take back Congress this fall, prove to the public that you're not all a bunch of right-wing Christian nut jobs, and save us some money.  Privatize medicine and elder care, for good, and for real!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Online K-12 Education

I am not really sure if this is just a new trend in Nevada, or if it is nationwide, but I have been hearing a lot of advertisements for K12, an online, tuition free, public education option.

I have mixed feelings about this.  From a political standpoint, I think it is great for two reasons.

First of all, I am all for improving the efficiency of any government programs, including public education.  Online education does not carry the expense of purchasing or maintaining a physical school facility.  This could lead to huge cost savings if and when this trend catches on on the large scale.

Second, I am all for parental choice in education.  Especially in a system increasingly controlled by Federal, rather than State or Local, regulations, benchmarks and policies, parents should have more say in how their children are educated.  Especially in Nevada, a state where many people are employed in the 24 hour gaming and tourism industries, this also has the potential to increase parental involvement in their children's education, since online education is not limited to a traditional daytime class schedule.

On a personal and social level, however, it is important to acknowledge that academic knowledge is only part of the educational experience.  Socialization, and the learning of social norms and skills that comes with it is another huge part.  There is an (in my humble opinion) alarming trend toward ignoring this aspect.  From eliminating recess and physical education, to starting online education, we are shying away from the social development aspects of traditional education, in favor of test results to get children into increasingly competitive higher education institutions, so that they can better compete in an increasingly competitive job market.  Through numerically-based Federal programs like the No Child Left Behind Act, we are leaving behind no individual children (at least on paper), but we are leaving behind the social development which schools bring.

Particularly as video games, cable televisions, and computers have taken children away from live, face to face (sometimes hand to hand) contact with other children, this is scary.  Add to this the realities of our era not being as safe as that in which we, or especially our parents grew up.  Gone are the days for most children of being left outside unattended on a summer afternoon to play with the neighborhood kids.

Test results may look good, but especially as our economy moves more and more away from production and into service industries, social interaction is important.  There is no standardized test which adequately measures or prepares for social interaction.  Practice, social gaffes, and yes, even fights, are how our youth learn what is and is not socially acceptable behavior.  This is what truly prepares them for interaction with customers and coworkers in the real world.  A college professor of mine once said, "Ten years from now, I doubt any of you will remember anything I taught you about Japanese politics.  This class is not really about Japanese politics, or what you learn about it.  It is about teaching you how to learn, and how to think."

The same goes for earlier phases of education.  School is not about learning multiplication tables.  It is about learning study, professional, and social skills which will allow students to prosper in adult life.  Online education fails students in this important regard.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thoughts on Gay Marriage

With the ruling on Prop 8, the gay marriage debate has suddenly been brought back to life.

Well, I figure this is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on the issue.

First of all, the religious right is correct.  Marriage is a holy and sacred institution.  Perhaps, if that is what a particular religion believes, it should not be tainted or disgraced by the marriage of a same sex couple.  On the other hand, what does the religious right think of Rush's three marriages?  Or Republicans who get divorced?

The purpose of marriage (from a religious sense) is the raising of a family, is it not?  So, according to most of the doctrines which oppose gay marriage, these couples should not be using birth control, right?  Moreover, widows, divorced people, etc. shouldn't be getting married if the woman is post-menopausal, and unable to bear children, right?

In fact, in many of these religions, people probably shouldn't be marrying if the woman is employed full time outside the home, right?  After all, women were intended to raise the family, right?

Well, the hypocrisy of the reasoning behind protecting the sanctity of marriage aside, here is my point.  The whole institution of legal marriage is a disgrace to both the sanctity of marriage, and the liberty of individuals.

If a marriage is a holy union, why should you need the government's approval?  What about couples who are in love, who have their creator's blessing, but cannot afford a marriage license, or for whatever reason are unable to attain one?

Some say that the issue is over a word.  A less extreme view of my own perspective would argue that marriage should be changed to a "civil union" or "legal union" for both gay and straight couples, to take the religious fervor out of the argument.

My own, perhaps rather extreme, opinion, is that marriage as a governmental or political institution should be abolished.  There are a series of "benefits," "drawbacks," and other effects which come with legal marriage.  These should each be considered individually, and be up to the individuals involved to decide.

Many of these issues can be addressed with wills and living wills.  Inheritance, hospital visitation rights, organ donations, funeral arrangements, medical decisions, etc. should go to biological family (parents or children), not to spouses, unless a specific arrangement has been made and legally documented prior to the situation arising.

Taxes should be based on living arrangements, not based on personal or romantic relationships or emotional attachments.  Roommates (regardless of their domestic arrangement) who choose to live as a household should be able to file taxes as one, regardless of whether or not they are "married."

Health insurance companies and employers should decide who is eligible for non-employee benefits based on their policies, not based on a piece of paper issued by a court.

A couple of good examples before I stop rambling.  Many adults never get married.  Some get divorced and stay single.  Some adults have long-term roommates.  For instance, one woman I know has been married, and lived with her roommate for 30 years (almost as long as she has been married to her husband).  They pay bills together, pay rent together, and share groceries.  The roommate recently became unemployed, and is now being supported by my acquaintance and her husband.  When the couple was raising their child, the roommate was there to support them and help them.  Their daughter describes it as "almost like having a second mother."  From a financial or tax standpoint, is she any less a part of their household than the husband?

Gay or straight, people should have the right (and responsibility) to make choices regarding individual financial, legal, and medical decisions.  These should not be lumped into one institution, under a name borrowed from religion, and based entirely (at least in theory), on an emotional, sexual, and romantic relationship.  Leave "marriage" and "unions" up to the people and their churches, and let the state worry about specific transactions.