Friday, March 12, 2010

The Earth, It's Climate, and Changing Temperatures over Time

I love hot-button topics.  They make it so easy to flush out the people that really have an understanding about their point of view from those that regurgitate the latest rhetoric from their favorite talking head.  Today I'd like to prod at the topic of the human race's influence on the planet's environment.  When you stand back and look at all of the conversations going on about Global Warming or Climate Change, it is immediately evident that the two opposing sides are just as polarized as the two popular political parties.

As with my views on politics: these two sides are working overtime to create confusion on this topic to prevent any real work from getting done.  On one side there are people that believe that the warming trend seen by scientists is part of a natural cyclical phenomenon and that all of the green house gases produced by the human race has little (some, but over all a very small) effect on the global climate.  The opposing view point, a near polar opposite, believes that human contributions of pollution and other changes to the Earth (including deforestation, over-population, misuse of resources, etc) are causing great harm to the planet's climate.  Each side is so violently opposed to the other's point of view that in order for any progress to be made, one must first overcome the hatred between individuals rather than being able to thoughtfully approach the topic of discussion.

All of  the people in the "global warming is fake" camp aren't willing to spend any money on some made-up phenomenon; and all of the people in the "you're causing my global warming" camp can't raise enough capital to get any real work done by themselves.  Fuck global warming.

The real motivator in this equation, as I hinted at before, is money.  America (even with all of its financial problems) is the innovation capital of the world because everyone is out to make a buck for themselves with their newest invention or idea.  Our entire way of life is about making things better and more efficient so that you can sell your wigit for less than the other person with the same profit margin.  So let's talk about money in a way that will make all sides of this issue happy.

The first and foremost issue that is at the heart of the global warming debate is anthropogenic pollution primarily in the form of sulfur, nitrogen, and carbon oxides.  These compounds are primarily byproducts of high-temperature combustion like those found in automotive engines or industrial processes.  Bottom line: burning coal and oil = bad.  From the point of view of the people that live off of these processes, this is the cheapest and most cost effective method of making the things that people use all the time (driving cars, plastics, electricity, etc).

Those of you familiar with my blog know that I am not a fan of government agencies not doing a good job...  You'd never guess why the Department Of Energy was founded.  It seems that President Carter was having some problems with an oil shortage (an Energy Crisis, if you will) that hurt the country... anyway, he thought that for the sake of National Security we should END OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL.  Thus the DOE was formed by the signing of the Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977.  Sure they have other things to do also like manage the US stockpile of nuclear weapons and over-watch the country's nuclear power plants but come on!  In 33 years you couldn't get around to giving up foreign oil?  Sorry for my little tangent...

The big deal is that in order to get people to work together, it is all about compromise.  In stead of blaming the big terrible corporation for making money on polluting the air, remind them that if they want to continue to utilize American talent and technological progress, then they should be putting more of their money into a local economy rather than shipping $700 Billion (almost as much as the cost of the entire Iraq war) over seas.  Maybe mention that one of the things that made ExxonMobile the largest energy company in the world was US innovation which is now in jeopardy because of our lagging education system.

The only thing that frantic ranting and raving about the end of the world does is further drive the polarization in this country.  I think it is quite obvious that the last thing we need is yet another issue to hate one another over.  Let's talk about this like rational human beings and talk about solutions that everyone can get behind.  It is easier to make this a matter of national pride than world destruction.  Angel Investors (the people that help make your idea into a real working company) love this sort of thing.  It is also historically the best way for the US in institute change: by example.  It was only when the US started strong-arming other nations that our global popularity started to suffer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Clear Message


I am sure that by now you have heard the results of the Massachusetts Special Election to fill the US Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy: Joe Kennedy pulled in 22,237 votes!  That was averaged out to 1% of the vote.  Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, claimed victory over the Democratic candidate Martha Coakley 52% to 47%.  The media outlets are calling this a clear message from the people of Massachusetts that they are frustrated with [pick one of the following: healthcare, the economy, President Obama's policies, the Democratic majority, et cetera].  That's a really long message.

This got me thinking: who decides what my message is?  Is my message automatically the primary platform of the winning candidate?  Where does this come from?  I've been asking a lot of people what drove them to choose their candidate and the most common response I get is that they were choosing the lesser of two evils.  Generally, this means that the voter doesn't really like any of the candidates or their platforms, but the one that received their vote was the most tolerable.  What about people voting party lines for whatever reasons they can come up with?

So lets take this example of the Special Election.  I work with a lot of people that lean towards the right and are very passionate about their positions.  It was no surprise to me that they were voting for Scott Brown when I asked them... what was interesting to me was that they all unanimously agreed that Joe Kennedy was more in line with their political view points.  When I pressed a little harder, all of them eventually admitted that while Joe Kennedy was their preferred candidate, they were going to vote Scott Brown because he "had a chance to win."  Of my admittedly small polling pool (tens of people), all of them thought that Joe Kennedy was the superior candidate.  So lets take some liberties here - if even 25% of the people that voted for Scott Brown felt this way and in stead decided to vote for Joe Kennedy, wouldn't that send a stronger message than electing a Republican?

Now it is true that 40% of Scott Brown's votes wouldn't have saved Joe Kennedy... but how many people that voted for Martha Coakley felt that casting their votes for her would save the Commonwealth from the Republicans?  What if 25% of Coakley's supporters actually felt that Joe Kennedy would make a better candidate than Martha Coakley but only voted for Coakley because she "had a chance to win?"  Combined with Kennedy's 1%, that is 51% of the vote.

Obviously I am throwing in a lot of speculation - there aren't any polls conducted that identify the public's opinion of the "better candidate" other than the way people vote.  My point here is that you don't win anything for picking the winning candidate - this isn't a horse race or your fantasy football league.  The truth is that you have a greater chance of seeing the real change everyone is hoping for if you were to vote for the candidate that best fits your personal beliefs rather than the one that has a chance of winning.  As I pointed out in my example: it only takes a small amount of people from both parties to make a real change.  Bottom line: vote for the candidate that best represents your point of view and more importantly understand what it is that you actually stand for.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Health Coverage to All and To All a Good Night!

Unless you have been living in a hole for the last few days, you have heard by now that the Senate has voted to approve their version of the Health Care Reform Bill without any help from the Republicans (Passing the Senate with 60-39... Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) apparently doesn't care about Health Care Reform).  I'm sure all of the Senators were doing their best insuring that the best interests of all Americans were being accounted for.  Especially Senators like Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) that only voted for the health care bill after an earmark was added to fund his state's Medicare obligation (each state must fund its own Medicare program).  The House of Representatives has a rule in place that prevents trading earmarks for votes, but a rule like that does not exist in the Senate.  There was actually a vote in the senate in 2007 to pass a similar vote trading rule that passed an unanimous 98-0 that would have forbade this type of actions, but it was never actually adopted.  So is the Senate actually acting in accordance with what is best for the common citizen?  According to, the congressional approval rating is a blistering high of 27.4%.  It seems to be quite clear that whatever they are doing - they aren't doing a very good job.

The NYTimes actually has a good article describing the differences between the two bills passed by the House and the Senate, located here.  There are quite a few differences that will not be easy to overcome.  For those of you in Massachusetts, your vote will mean have an even greater meaning in the January 19th special elections because the vote of one senator can pass or fail this entire bill.  With something this important, you'd think that a compromise could be reached that would satisfy more people.

If the senate was really doing such an awesome job, wouldn't their approval ratings be hire?  If this version of health care reform was really the best thing for the country, wouldn't more people be enthusiastic about it?  Drop an e-mail to your representatives and senators and let them know what you think about the job they are doing.  If you are one of the 27.4% of people that think they are doing great, tell them... they will need a few words of encouragement after the 65.8% of angry people get their word in.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health By Bureaucracy

Just a quick one today.  I'm sure you've heard the news about the Federally appointed task force that decided that the current breast cancer screening procedures are too thorough sighting the high cost of each test and individual turmoil caused due to false positives (detecting breast cancer where there isn't any).  Thankfully the Obama Administration won't change their existing policy on this go-around... its like they have a critical bill moving through the Senate that is trying to give them control over what type of medical treatment is really necessary or something.

Seriously, though:  a government task force appointed to come up with the balance between cost, your own personal feelings, and your health?  Isn't this just like the government telling me what is healthy instead of me talking it over with my doctor?  I thought this was something only evil corporations were capable of: identifying what sort of treatments or preventative measures I need by a calculated cost-benefit analysis.  Why would you fight for something like this?

Here is my chance to poke a few more holes in the FDA, also.  Have you heard the story about the FDA looking to take action against highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages?  First off, who hasn't tried a Vodka with Red Bull - secondly, what is the point of making pre-mixed drinks illegal when the whole fashion was started with people mixing their own drinks?  If MillerCoors isn't allowed to sell their Sparks because it is dangerous, what is to keep people from mixing their own again?  Is the FDA going to go into a house party and arrest people for mixing drinks?  Which is really dangerous - the alcohol or the caffeine or both?  If everything is dangerous, let's just bring back prohibition and add caffeine to the list of banned substances!

It is impossible to implement enough laws to protect people from their own ignorance.  If it is dangerous to mix alcohol and caffeine, then education is the way to solve it (remember that party saying, "beer before liquor, never sicker - liquor before beer, in the clear").  It is the same with preventative health measures - these issues should be solved between a patient and their doctor.  These are the two most qualified parties that poses the most relevant information - not some bureaucratic task force.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Social Security

As you may recall, I asked Mike Capuano at an Open Mike event his view of the constitutionality of the federal government passing some form of universal health care in a previous post.  During the first few seconds after he was getting over his apparent shock, he told me that health care is absolutely constitutional because if it wasn't, then Social Security wouldn't be constitutional either.  My response was quite simply, "Well - yeah."  Enter: US Supreme Court case Helvering vs Davis (May 1937).  The Supreme Court upheld the Social Security Act as constitutional.

I was planing on going in to how this ruling was incredibly controversial and came shortly after President Roosevelt stacked the Supreme Court with the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937.  I was also prepared to dive deeper still into the meaning behind the phrase "general welfare" in both the US Constitution's Preamble and in Article 1 Section 8 from different view points (including direct opposition to James Madison's opinion from Joseph Story's Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States) that reinforce the theory that general welfare relates to the United States as a whole and not helping individuals off the streets.  Instead, after a brief conversation with a friend, I decided to look at the belief that it is the federal government's job to help individuals through personal hardships.

Clinging to the phrase "general welfare" in the constitution as meaning "helping poor people" is a week argument.  There are numerous texts that indicate "general welfare" applies to things like interstate roads so that the post office can efficiently deliver your mail without having to take into account different state's traffic laws, navigation standards and the placement of light houses and buoys for ships, and regulating trade between the United States and other countries.  These examples hold true even between differing opinions on how restrictive "general welfare" is on the laws Congress can pass.

So what leads people to believe that the government is required to look out for its citizen's well-being?  Where is it stated that anything the government does is always in the best interest of its people?  What proof is there that government programs are more effective at helping people than private charities?  Who decided that the government knows what is best better than me, my family, my friends, or my community?

The loudest voice in Massachusetts right now for the universal health care plan is arguably Mike Capuano who during his Open Mike event proclaimed that we the people should do our due-diligence when selecting a US Senator because he is the government, and the government can not be trusted.  If I can't trust the government, by admission of representatives of that same government, then why am I to assume that what they are doing is in my best interest?  Shouldn't I be able to trust them if that was the case?

My point boils down to this: the government (by its own admission) can not be trusted blindly.  We the people do not have the capability to live out our lives with all of our daily responsibilities and at the same time watch everything the government tries to do - anyone would go mad trying to.  The only way to ensure that your best interest is met is to have direct control over every aspect of your life that is important to you (retirement, health care, personal savings, charity, etc).  For those less fortunate, the immediate community (family, religion, work groups, neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, states, ect) should feel a responsibility towards those people and help out.  It is a statistical impossibility that the government could ever come up with a program that is capable of helping everyone without hurting anyone.  It is also abundantly clear that even when government programs begin with the best moral intentions, they quickly degrade into slowly-moving, out-dated, bloated bureaucracies whose effectiveness degrades until they ultimately burden the nation more than the initial problem they were created to solve.  The second the government makes a decision for you, your freedom to make the choice for yourself is abolished.  Case in point: I can no longer choose where 6% of my salary goes to because the federal government decided I don't know how to save for my retirement (thanks, Social Security).  What a wonderful burden to have lifted from my back... I should consider myself lucky if I get back exactly what I put back in... wonderful investment strategy - THANKS, government!

So why then is the government left on this high moral pedestal?  Why is it treated with any less skepticism than the "evil corporations" or greedy old "elitists"?   I'm leaving this post with more questions than answers, but this is where I am at this point.  I am absolutely dumbfounded that people will argue for a plan like government health care on the basis that the government's only intention is to help its citizens only to freely admit that the government is full of corruption and self interest on any number of other programs.  If you can definitively identify for me why the government deserves our unyielding trust or what compels the government to act only in the best interest of the people... you get a prize.  Drop me a line in the comments.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Joe Kennedy for Senate 2010

Next year, Massachusetts will be holding special elections to fill the US Senate seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy.  I found that it was actually really hard to find a single source of news that listed all of the candidates... but leave it to the internet swarm to step up and fulfill my needs.  Wikipedia has a really awesome list of candidates that you can check out.  A short Google search for each candidate can expose their platform for your consideration.  I took a look at all of them and settled on my winner.

The Democratic candidates are for the most part pushing hard to maintain Ted Kennedy's reputation of "winning at all costs."  When I visited Mike Capuano's "Open Mike" event, he stressed his approval of passing Social Security and Medicare "without a single Republican vote."  I feel as though people like this only serve to drive the wedge in deeper to further polarize the country which is absolutely not what we need at this time.

The Republicans are similarly polarized in the opposite direction.  The leading candidate, Scott Brown, is still pushing his anti-gay rights agenda.  Really?  Come on, man - Massachusetts has lead the charge on gay rights - so much so that it sued the federal government about discrimination against homosexuals!  How do you expect anyone to believe your commitment to bipartisan cooperation if you are so far out in right field over something this state feels so strongly about?

This leaves the independents (according to Wikipedia): William Coleman and Joe Kennedy.  William Coleman is a "common man" from Worcester... so common in fact that he doesn't even have a campaign website.  I can't find any information about his platform, his stance on issues, or even if he is still in the running.  FAIL.  After that monstrous blunder, my hopes weren't too high for Joe Kennedy (no relation to those Kennedy's).  As you have no doubt determined, I believe that Joe Kennedy is a phenomenal candidate.

Joe is a Computer Scientist by training, but has more recently held managerial positions and has held seats on the board of directors for several companies.  More importantly, his views are what some people would describe as "socially liberal and fiscally conservative."  He is for same-sex relationships and cutting government spending.   His view on health care reform is to make available to everyone Personal Medical Savings Accounts which are tax-free (those not able to save money into accounts would be able to claim all medical spending for tax write-offs) and to end government regulation which stifles free market (FYI: for the last 40 or so years, health care has NOT been a free market).

I've got my candidate for 2010... who are you voting for?  Tell me who and why in the comments.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Alternatives

Lots of people today are at odds with the main stream political parties.  Voters in the middle, or Restless and Anxious Moderates (RAMs) according to the Washington Post, are becoming more and more prominent with some estimates upwards of 80% of the population saying they would consider an independent candidate in the 2008 presidential race (regardless of their declared party affiliation).  From my point of view there are several issues that people find themselves at odds with one party or the other, so they label themselves as "Fiscal Conservatives and Social Liberals" or similar.  I'm sure you have heard of some of the other political parties because of candidates like Ross Perot (Reform Party), Ralph Nader (Green Party), and Ron Paul (Libertarian Party).  Thus the subject of today's entry: your alternatives.

I've seen lots of people define their political party based on the few issues they feel are important to them.  For instance: some people would label themselves as Democrats because they believe people should have equal rights to marriage... others would label themselves as republicans because they believe abortion should be made illegal.  What about all of the other positions those parties take?  The Democrats believe the government should take care of everyone and watch over them where the Republicans believe the government is evil and all of its spending should be cut to nothing except war (I'm exaggerating here to make a point of skewed opinion, not a presentation of facts).  While it may be true that it is impossible to find a political party where you agree with EVERY facet of their platform, but do you fall neatly into either the Republican or Democrat columns?

As I hinted at before, there is a plethora of options for political parties in the US, so I'm not even going to try to tackle every one.  Instead, I am going to focus on the two parties that have captured my attention the most: Libertarians and Constitutionalists.  When I first began my dive into political alternatives, I was drawn quickly to these two parties because my emerging political issue is personal rights.  These two parties agree on several issues including the wish to return to a government strictly bound by the Constitution, the promotion of individual freedoms, and they both have similar economic policies.  They also both agree on the issue of health care reform: the government is constitutionally prohibited from regulating health care.

The deciding factor for me was written in the preamble for each party.  The preamble is the party line from which all of their policies can be derived from - with it, you should be able to identify exactly how the party would vote on any given issue without having to look at their issues page.  The Constitutionalists believe that this country was founded not by "religionists", but by Christians that believe in "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  They seek to return to American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the government within its Constitutional boundaries.  This to me said that the party as a whole can selectively persecute because of religious beliefs (though not through legal means because the Constitution prohibits that).  It seems difficult to me that a country with such a strong foundation favoring one religion over another can remain tolerant of other religions (I'm thinking of the UK right now which is going through problems with their Muslim population and much of the Middle East which is trying to work through its problems with Christians).

The Libertarians on the other hand emphasize individual rights and the elimination of the use of force or fraud to achieve goals.  They don't even mention religion in their preamble except to say that they believe it is wrong for the government to promote or attack any religion in particular and that people are free to follow any religion they wish so long as it doesn't infringe on the personal freedoms of someone else.  It just makes sense to me.  Since I have learned about these platforms, I get a little confused when I see people arguing for something that would infringe on other people's rights or freedoms.  Some examples I run into all the time are things like farm subsidies, health care, and government regulations.  Things like the health care debate strike at the very core of the Libertarian platform.  According to the Libertarians: the government is already too involved and needs to get out; Subsidies (farm, foreign trade like NAFTA, and energy) are all bad for the people; and government regulation does more harm than good.  Look it up.  Understanding that there isn't one party that fits all, issues that deal with the core party line should certainly align with your values.

The first thing you should do now is read up on your favorite party... go to your search engine of choice, type in your political party (like "libertarian party") and the first hit will be your party's website.  You should then be able to navigate around their website to find their Preamble (here are links for the Constitutionalists, Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans for a start).  Do you agree with your party's platform?  If not... why would you support them?  Find a party that agrees with you.  It isn't always easy to make a decision... but we've got some time... the next vote for the US House and Senate is November 2, 2010.