Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is it Too Late for Two States?

Ever since I was a child, I remember hearing about the various U.S. Presidents' "Roadmap to Peace" in the Middle East.  It was always my assumption, and that of the mainstream media and government here in the U.S. of A. that the path to peace involved separate states for Israelis and Palestinians, for Jews and for Muslims.  I remember through high school and college the idea of a unified state being laughed off as the international community declaring Israel and Palestine an "international or interfaith Disneyland."

Well, perhaps it is the time to start thinking Mickey Mouse.  The logic here goes several levels deep.  On the most basic level, let's look at the simple reality.  Jerusalem has sites that are among the most holy of all the major monotheistic faiths in existence.  The city could never be split between two countries like Berlin was, because the holy sites are spread throughout the city, as are the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures and populations.

Moreover, even if Jerusalem could be split, we now have the issue of the rest of the land.  The traditionally-Muslim portions of Israel have now been so encroached upon by Israeli settlement, which has lasted so long, that in order to provide a contiguous state to the Palestinians, Israelis would have to be forcibly relocated.  Darkness can not be met with darkness, but only with light.

Moreover, the idea of two separate states should scare Christians, especially Christians living within the disputed areas, more than anything.  By legitimizing political boundaries and political systems based on religion, we validate the idea of a Jewish and a Muslim state.  Where does this leave Christians?

In addition, the idea of two states should repulse anyone with even the most minute sense of "political corectness," "social justice," or Democracy.  Again, by allowing two states based on primarily religious distinctions, we are accepting that religion is an acceptable political boundary.  How can Americans, who oppose discrimination on religious grounds, accept this idea?

Finally, from a practical standpoint, the debate has reached a standstill.  First, the right of return question.  If a two state solution is really being sought, why does the Palestinian Authority care, or have a right to care, about Palestinians within the borders of the newly agreed upon Israel?  With two states, they would no longer represent Muslim interests within Israel, but instead, would represent the interests of Palestinian citizens within the newly defined Palestine.

Most tellingly is the conversation in the pro-Palestine blogosphere.  Palestinians, who are now the ethnic minority within Israel and Palestine, stand the most to lose on a true representative Democracy being established in Israel.  Yes, they would get equal rights, and finally be treated with some dignity.  But their voting power would never equal that of the Jewish majority.  Yet, more and more, they see this as the best path forward.  When the minority in a society pushes for Democracy, rather than independence, it is showing that the peace, dignity, and respect for human rights that come with Democracy are worth sacrificing political autonomy and true self-determination over.  We have obviously reached a new low in the Middle East conflict, and it may very well be time to start thinking outside of the box.  Or rather, start thinking inside the box, and outside of the two boxes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Equity vs. Equality

Being a poli sci major when I was in school, one thing I hated was looking at definitions, statistics, etc. versus the bigger picture.  This particular conversation, however, is one in which the definition is key to the bigger picture and defining issues and "good" policy.

The problem with the left, and even the center, in American politics today, is that there is a sense of "social justice" which uses inequities as an excuse to push for automatic equality for all racial, gender, and socio-economic groups.  Understanding the difference between equity and equality, and the importance of maintaining equity, but also maintaining inequality, in a capitalist system is key to keeping the American dream alive and understanding the proper, limited goal of the government in our lives.

Equality, as it relates to "social justice" and politics is the idea that all people are inherently equal, and equally deserving of everything from liberty to the "finer things in life."  This is inherently false, and a dangerous idea to democracy, and, especially, capitalism and the free market.  The American dream is built on the idea that through creativity, intelligence, natural ability, and hard work, one can set themselves ahead of the masses.  Thus, we all start out somewhere on a scale of unequal conditions, and our goal, our drive to give something to our economy and our society, is to move somewhere up that scale.

Equity, on the other hand, is the idea of a fair distribution of resources, and, in particular, opportunity.  That is, if two people are born in very different situations, but have the same skills, abilities, intelligence, and drive, will both have equal access to the tools needed to fulfill their idea of the American dream.

The left will consistently point out how inequitable our society is.  They point to statistics of the poor barely making it by, sending their children to underfunded schools so hungry that they cannot focus on the lessons taught by unqualified teachers.  They point out that there are few jobs available in minority and poor neighborhoods.

This is all true, and these are issues that need to be addressed.  The left, however, then turn around and in the same breath oppose school vouchers, and support instead the redistribution of wealth that we know as social welfare programs.  They support unemployment, welfare, food stamps, and other programs which redistribute resources to the poor and to minorities.

This does not solve the underlying problems.  While making our society more equal, these programs do little to make our society more equitable.  They take away the incentive to work, while also not providing the infrastructure or education to make it possible for the people in these neighborhoods to work, and to raise themselves out of their current conditions.

Unemployment, poverty, or drug addiction should not be comfortable or pleasant.  It should not be easy.  It should not be secure.  If it were, what would be the incentive to progress in life?

If we want to truly right the wrongs of an imperfect society with an imperfect history, we should remove the funding from social "safety net" programs, and redirect it all at meaningful, effective, educational reform.  From charter schools to school vouchers, what that means is forcing educational institutions to compete for students and funding, even students from low income areas.  By continually complaining about underfunded urban schools, we encourage our officials to reward under-performing districts with increased funding.  Instead, by offering charter and magnet schools, vouchers, and, if necessary, transportation, we have the potential to force real improvement in our education system.  By basing school funding on where parents choose to send their children to school, not based on geographical boundaries, we force school administrators and teachers who wish to keep their jobs to perform.

Although it may seem cold hearted to leave a generation which did not have access to these reforms behind, the best thing we can do to truly make the American dream a reality is to make sure that the current generation is the last to suffer through this.  Make sure that every American child has access to quality education, from educators, schools, and systems which are fighting to remain one step ahead.  Run our schools like businesses.  Make them accountable for the money they spend, and make them compete with the competition.  This is the only way to make them perform.  When our schools perform for all of our students, we will be a huge step closer to an equitable society.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Libertarians and Taxes

So one of the problems with political parties is that they often take broad stances and try to attract many, many people who vaguely or generally agree with them.  I thought that this was the case mostly with the major parties, but it happens with third parties too.  I realized this when I was reading the campaign website of Art Lampit, the Libertarian candidate for Nevada Governor this last election.  In all honesty, I voted for him, because of who the other candidates were, but despite his affiliation with my own political party, I really did not agree with him on a lot of issues.

The big one is taxes.  The official Libertarian stance on taxes is that they are a government intrusion into our pockets and our lives and they should be lowered.

Now, where do selective, targeted tax cuts and tax breaks fit into that understanding?

I can see the argument that any tax break is good as it takes less of our money and gives it to the government.  Baby steps, right?

That to me is what a "practical" Libertarian might think.  You know, the "ends justifies the means" type.  With this philosophy, a tax credit for providing health insurance to employees, or for creating green jobs, or for being a small business, makes sense because it lowers the overall tax burden.

I, however, am what I would call more of a "philosophical" Libertarian.  Beyond taking our money, if we think about why high taxes are un-Libertarian, tax breaks seem like a very un-Libertarian idea as well.  To me, Libertarianism is largely about limiting government to its pre-defined (by the Constitution) and necessary role.  Our government was given the right to collect taxes as a way of raising revenue to perform certain tasks.  Not as a way to manipulate and control our behavior.  Taxes should be a necessarily evil way of raising revenue from ALL citizens and businesses, not a way for the government to encourage or proscribe certain behaviors.

Also, the tax code itself is too complicated, requiring massive Federal, State, and Local bureaucracies to interpret, collect, and enforce.  This in itself contributes to large government.  Adding more loopholes and tax "incentives" only contributes to large government, and increases government spending.

That's why to me, being a Libertarian means supporting a proposal like the Fair Tax or Flat Tax, which would eliminate the IRS tax code, even if it means that the actual amount of money paid to the government by me, or by anyone else, would go up for now.

Overall tax expenditure should be cut by reducing bureaucracy, waste, and intrusion by the government, not by giving tax breaks that reward positive behavior and punish negative behavior.

Friday, November 26, 2010

(One of) The True Meaning(s) of Thanksgiving

So I know that depending on your time zone, this is anywhere from an hour to a day late, but I wanted to take a minute to reflect in one of the real meanings of the holiday many of us celebrated yesterday.

Most of us think of Thanksgiving as a day to be thankful for all that we have, and to enjoy the presence of our friends, our family, and a good home cooked meal.  While this is arguably a more noble cause for celebration than the slew of drunken (but fun) celebrations we hold throughout the year (St. Patrick's Day, New Years Eve, Fourth of July), or the abundance of Hallmark or Hallmark-ized holidays which seem to be about giving gifts and cards (Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, Sweetest Day, Bosses Day, Secretary Day, etc.), or even the handful of days supposedly dedicated to hardworking and sacrificing individuals, which we now, without celebration gladly take off of work (Columbus Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, President's Day), it is still an incomplete understanding of the holiday, its origins, and its true meaning.

At least if we buy into the great mythology that we sell our children as American History, this holiday is about a lot more.  It is about us, white Europeans, being helpless immigrants in a foreign land, and our (so the story we all acted out in kindergarten plays goes) gracious hosts offering us their hospitality, their warmth, a good meal, and the knowledge needed to survive in a foreign land.

So isn't it kind of ironic that while we sit around our tables laughing, eating, drinking, and giving thanks with our families, that we are neglecting the people who find themselves in the same position?  Many immigrants (those lucky enough to have the day off) spend the day alone, without their families, and with nothing to do but go to the movies, and maybe grab a bite to eat at the local Chinese restaurant or IHOP.

This time of year should be an opportunity for people on all sides of the aisle to think about the real "first Thanksgiving," and what lessons we can learn.  A people who were decimated by our greed, our disease, and our trans-Atlantic political and military struggles welcomed us into their homeland.  Yet today, even as we celebrate and give thanks for their hospitality, many fail to extend the same hospitality to those that land on our shores and at our airports, and who cross our borders.  Unlike the white Europeans, who brought disease, war, famine, theft of land, genocide, forced migration, and centuries of unequal treatment to our hosts, many of our immigrants come here not to destroy, but to embrace our culture and our way of living.  We should at least attempt to welcome them with the same warmth the Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

Friday, November 5, 2010

More Positive Election News from Nevada

So not a lot of the candidates I voted for, or even liked, won here in Nevada.  The election results though, still made me happy in a way.  Reid, who I hated, won, but his son, and most other Democrats, lost.

Why would such a thing make me happy?  Even if they were unwilling to take the leap and vote independent or third party, voters in Nevada at least researched and formed an opinion on the individual candidates.  Clearly, with the election being split between Republicans and Democrats, and very few races being close, this is the case.

People actually looked at the individual candidates, and not just the letter next to their names, and that is a good start.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good News from Election Day

This may sound odd, but I'm very pleased with election day.  I'm particularly happy that we are now gridlocked, with one house and the White House controlled by one party, and the other house controlled by the other party.  Why, you might ask?  Doesn't that make government inefficient and unable to accomplish anything?

Exactly.  Our two parties have failed to convince me that they have any desire or will to accomplish anything that actually benefits "we the people."  So, with a gridlocked political system, hopefully we can maintain the status quo, and hold off any more Republican attempts at restricting our liberties and Democratic attempts at emptying our wallets for a few years until some candidates who propose real change emerge.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Hopefully everyone went out and voted.  I know I did.  And thanks to early voters, I walked right in, got my voting card, walked right to a machine and was done with the whole thing in about five minutes.

That being said, many in Nevada were disappointed with our choices, particularly for our Senator.  I thought of it is an opportunity.

Yes, we were asked to choose between a Left-wing nutjob who has cost taxpayers millions and consistently voted to increase government spending or a crazy (possibly clinically so) woman who has frequently associated with Scientologists, supported giving prison inmates massages, and who thinks abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest.

I, however, viewed it as an opportunity to vote my mind, rather than be concerned about voting for an "electable" candidate.  Let's face it.  Either way, we are now stuck with a Senator who is at least one (possibly several) cards short of a deck.

So I voted for Michael L. Haines, and I don't feel bad about it.  Happy Election Day, and I really do hope everyone voted.