Thursday, September 30, 2010

Liberty vs. Equality this sunday sunday SUNDAY!!

Someone left a comment on my last post (yanno.. the one ripping the Tea Party to shreds) that got my brain turning. It referred to this statement: “limiting government intervention is one thing but saying that it's a terrible idea for government to regulate the economy but it's perfectly okay for it to regulate my marriage to another guy is pure hypocrisy.” I believe that the Tea Party should be pro gay marriage if they really believed what they were saying. This person then asked me to flip my argument around: if the government should be allowed to regulate the economy, should it be allowed to regulate marriage? After thinking about it for a bit, I have my answer. And my answer is that I get to have it both ways: a government should regulate economic issues while also pushing social equality. I get to have it both ways because this argument boils down to a very basic discussion within democratic governments that was once heatedly debated: liberty versus equality.

As Americans, we were taught history but we really weren't taught to analyze it well. We know the stories, but we have a really hard time with the concepts behind the stories because we're expected to sit back and coast through life consuming without causing too much trouble. Because of this, people have a really hard time putting their political beliefs in simple terms, but if everyone sat back and thought about this really important distinction between liberty and equality, it may help. I'll start off by defining each concept. Liberty basically means the freedom to do whatever one wants without the fear of government action. See that Roman root in the word? This is why I don't like calling myself a "liberal" --I prefer "progressive" because I like progress and change-- as the basic belief in liberty is freedom from oppression, which I obviously do agree with, but when bastardized, it can mean freedom from government intervention which I think is a terrible idea. We have the "liberties" of freedom of speech and religion and other wonderful ideas because they are enshrined in our Constitution, which is a document soaked in liberty. It tells the government what it cannot do as opposed to what it should be doing, which gives it a healthy dose of wiggle room along with necessary restraint.

Equality, on the other hand, is an idea people talk about on a daily basis. Liberty seems to be something left to the Revolutionaries as some of us has lived with it for centuries. We're used to freedom of speech and religion. Liberty is something so basic to American values that it's rarely talked about. It's the equality that usually alluded our society, and it, of course, means ensuring that everyone has a truly fair shot at life and are given the same protections and opportunities as everyone else. A kid who grows up in our broken cities who attends our broken schools does not receive the same treatment as the kids who attends affluent private schools. They both get the opportunity to go to school which is something many countries can't afford, but we have a long way to go if we pride ourselves on being an equal society. What "equal" means to a lot of people is really different, however, and so are the ways to obtain it.

Now the problem with these two ideas is that they diametrically oppose each other: a society cannot have complete liberty while striving for complete equality because as governments push for extreme equality, freedom tends to decrease. That's called communism, folks, and I'm not advocating for that. If we reverse the equation, though, we see that as people are given more and more freedom to act as they choose, equality tends to decrease. Our current economic situation is a perfect example. We tore out the guts of our regulatory systems which was meant to decrease the amount of "freedom" and risk corporations could take. This encouraged widespread privatization and led to massive increases in wealth for the richest among us. And guess what happened to the gap between the rich and the poor in this country? Or the power and wealth of the middle class? That's right, we've gotten screwed. Take a look at this nice graph because I like when people can see just how bad things have gotten:

This graph was taken from Paul Krugman's blog. The dots track how much the richest .01% of the American population own as a percentage of the total wealth in the country. Look at that spike in the 20's. That was right before the Great Depression and look how much higher the last dot is and that was in 2007! Just this past year, as American households saw their wealth fall by almost 3 percent, the top 400 richest Americans saw their combined wealth increase nearly 10 percent. The 400 richest Americans now own almost 3% of the entire nation's wealth. 400 people! That's smaller than some graduating high school classes! How can anyone think that this situation is perfectly acceptable, let alone sustainable? Never before in American history has the income gap between rich and poor been so wide. If we continue down this road of widespread privatization, deregulation and encouraging profit-at-all-costs through unfettered economic liberty, we can only expect this situation to get worse, most likely at the expense of average Americans.

I believe that a responsible government should be in the business of promoting equality at the expense of some liberties, especially economic ones. It's not healthy for our economy and the graphs and statistics I've used have shown this. I'm willing to give up economic liberty for economic equality, and yes, this benefits me since I'm not likely to be making any crazy economic risks with my no job and no income. But since I've never said the people should be free to do whatever they want, I'm perfectly justifiable and not hypocritical in making this argument.

And guess what? This whole post boils down to a word dirtier in America than the worst swear words combined (I should really create such a word): socialism. The dumbass Tea Partiers hang this word around President Obama's neck like a noose when socialist policies that seek to reduce income inequality in sensible ways would be in their own interest. Like I said earlier, equality taken to the extreme is Communism and while I don't think total Communism has been tried as each form has corrupted the basic ideas of the system, Communism would obviously never work here. But socialist policies do work here and they have in the past. It's unfortunate that the word is seen with such disdain here in the States.

If these Tea Baggers.. damnit, I did it again.. Tea Partiers were led completely by ideology, that's fine. But the sad thing is that these people have gotten suckered into believing that choosing liberty over equality would somehow benefit them. Choosing liberty over equality hurts the average American and only benefits corporate puppet-masters of the Tea Party that exist behind the curtain which features a picture of an elephant ridden by a very white Jesus holding a rifle and a beer.

So back to that person's comment and the beginning of my post. I do get to have it both ways: our government should regulate business to promote equality and our government should stay the fuck out of social issues unless equality is threatened. Wa-BAM, bitches! Simple ideological compass. Sensible policies that promote equality create a healthy middle class and having a robust middle class with the power to continue to support themselves is the only way out of the mess we're in. Once again, it all comes down to choice in November: on one hand, we've got a bunch of morons running around in silly hats brandishing signs that make me embarrassed to have come from the country that educated these people. They tout a bastardized version of liberty. On the other hand, we've got a party who tends to fuck up with governance which has resulted in widespread disappointment. It's led by a President who I truly think gets it and understands that equality and a healthy middle class is the only way out of this. His efforts have just been stymied by these fake liberty loving assholes. I think it's pretty obvious where my vote is going and where yours should go, too. Unless, of course, you're one of the 400 people out of 307 million who have benefitted from dysfunctional economic liberties.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I'll have my tea served with two cubes of regulation and government safety standards thanks to programs like the FDA, thanks.

While the nation seems to be reveling in a tea-induced fever, my humble little city has spawned the Republican nominee for governor of New York state: a pissed-off little man who uses the word "hell" in his political slogan and yet the social conservatives are fine with this, even though I distinctly remember it being a swear word when I was a kid. Rest of the country, meet Carl Paladino, an avid Tea Bagger.. I mean Partier. Tea Partier, sorry.

Most are well aware that the "Tea Party" movement touts liberty above all else. These Tea Baggers say that they want to shrink the government so that it leaves "we the people" alone. Okay, fine, in that sense you sound a bit like Libertarians. And Libertarians, I can see where you're coming from. I honestly do. I can even get behind a lot of what you believe. Government can be a dangerous tool when used oppressively. But oh, wait, these Tea Party People (whose parties always seem really lame) don't qualify as true Libertarians. True Libertarians decry any and all government intervention. These Tea Partiers are simply traditional Republicans wearing silly outdated tricorner hats while now donning their racism and hate proudly instead of behind closed doors. Keep in mind, I'm not saying that all Republicans are racist, but it definitely seems like a decent amount of these Tea Partiers are. I don't care how they try to paint their movement, how many black or hispanic people do you see at their gatherings? That's right, next to none. It's usually cranky old white people wearing awesome wolf t-shirts. And one has to admit that their vitriol for President Obama is nasty and, most of the time, blatantly racist.

Anyway, limiting government intervention is one thing but saying that it's a terrible idea for government to regulate the economy but it's perfectly okay for it to regulate my marriage to another guy is pure hypocrisy. There is no other word for it. Many of these people are simply the old-style of Republicans: socially and economically conservative. The Tea Party is just a re-branding of traditionally hypocritical Republican values because they took such a beating after the 2008 election of Barack Obama. No one wanted to call themselves a Republican anymore because the brand was so damaged. If you believe in that shit, that's fine. Just don't try to pretend that this is some sort of sweeping "new" movement because this all has been tried before and it failed.

Let's have a quick history lesson, shall we? People who think that the government is "too big" or is "too dangerous" to deal with the beloved free market were once called --confusingly to Americans-- liberals. The name comes from the whole liberty thing and belief in free markets. After the original complete free market experiment failed miserably (yanno.. widespread child labor, terrible working conditions, low pay and a massive economic depression), they retreated to the academic gutter while regulation and government assistance became the norm with the New Deal. America and the world prospered until things did get a bit out of hand and bloated until Reaganomics and Thatcherism came along and introduced some necessary competition and privatization to the public sector. What comes after is the subject of another post, however. In other words, government regulation is necessary. It protects us from the follies of what we experienced before the Great Depression: businesses doing what they pleased while people sat back until everyone suffered from the risky and dangerous practices of the greedy private sector. These Tea Baggers are threatening to take the ax to many important government programs to prove their faith in "free markets." Let's not forget that not only is untempered faith in free markets one of the larger causes of The Great Depression, deregulation and lack of oversight of the financial sector is a direct cause of the current economic mess in which we find ourselves! Hooray, history repeats itself once again. That's not to say I'm not for capitalism. I'm for sensible and regulated capitalism which allows for proper oversight.

Now, keeping all that in mind, here we have this nice little resurrection of dangerous beliefs because people can't bother to take a proper lesson in history. The funniest thing is that many of these "Tea Partiers" who claim to love free markets, competition, fiscal responsibility and limited government rarely hold true to their ideals in their personal lives. Carl Paladino, Western New York's angry little man who considers big government dangerous, is just one of those people. Everyone in Buffalo seems to be enamored with this guy because A, he's from the area and B, he's bitching about the dysfunction in Albany and our symbiotic relationship with downstate, a strategy that is sure to win you fans all across upstate NY. He wants to "slash business regulations and cut business taxes and end bureaucratic harassment of the private sector." Surprise, surprise. It all just sounds so noble and angry, doesn't it? Too bad that once one learns a little bit about this guy's business practices, all this angry anti-government rhetoric reveals itself to be pure self-interest. If you're reading this and you're from Buffalo, and if you take only one thing away from reading this post, let it be this: while Carl Paladino promotes himself as an "outsider" and is screaming that government should be spending less, as a businessman, he encourages the exact opposite. He's the government's largest landlord here in WNY, he buys buildings from the government for almost nothing and he receives at least $12 million in government-promoted tax breaks. Sounds to me like he's benefiting a whole fucking lot from government programs and intervention. Slashing regulations, cutting taxes for businesses and ending bureaucracies of his choosing would simply allow him to continue to earn more from our state. He also likes to consider himself a man of the people, but the guy brings in millions of dollars a year. While most New Yorkers are hurting (nearly one in ten are unemployed), he wants to cut government programs and spending when people are relying on things like unemployment and Medicaid now more than ever. Seems a bit out of touch, but hey, people love an angry populist. Of course, there may be perfectly reasonable explanations for what he was trying to do through all of his government assistance, but when the reporter who wrote the article I cited tried to reach him for a comment, Paladino refused. Let's hear it for transparency and accountability at its finest!

Let's also not forget the fact that Republicans rarely live up to their promises. Sure, they'll decimate effective regulation and oversight so that large businesses and corporations can run amok, but they often run on the promise to cut government spending and shrink the overall size. However, when one takes a look at some handy-dandy charts, government spending and debt rose dramatically under recent Republican presidents while it decreased under only Democratic hands (President Obama's situation is different enough to warrant further explanation, and if you want me to explain this to you sometime, that's fine. I'm just not gonna waste the space here). This obviously simplifies things and takes a lot out of the picture, but the basic fact remains that Republicans have run on these themes for decades and yet never really seem to follow through on their promises. What makes us think this time will be different? Because of those fun hats and signs with terrible grammar?

Sorry guys, but it seems that Republicans are really fucking good at one thing and one thing only: marketing. Feel free to buy into it all again, everyone. Just stop bitching about the size of government spending when the Republicans are just as much to blame for it, if not more so. Paladino, this crazy O'Donnell woman from Delaware, Sarah Palin and any other "Tea Partier" aren't offering us anything new and in fact, cutting government programs at a time when Americans need them the most is closer to suicide than it is to helping us. Through the Tea Party, Republicans are hoping to ride this wave of populist anger to regain power in order to impose strict measures at a time when what they want is nothing short of disastrous. They will hurt the vast majority of the population while benefiting only those at the very top. This is dastardly and utterly deceptive (I like my d-flavored adjectives tonight!). Here's hoping that the majority of Americans are smart enough to see through the smoke and mirrors in November.