In re: Passionately defending a made up history

“Spurred by an administration he believes to be guilty of numerous transgressions, self-described American patriot Kyle Mortensen, 47, is a vehement defender of ideas he seems to think are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and principles that brave men have fought and died for solely in his head…

Right there in the preamble, the authors make their priorities clear: ‘one nation under God’ said Mortensen, attributing to the Constitution a line from the Pledge of Allegiance, which itself did not include any reference to a deity until 1954. “Well, there’s a reason they put that right at the top.”

“Men like Madison and Jefferson were moved by the ideals of Christianity, and wanted the United States to reflect those values as a Christian nation,” continued Mortensen, referring to the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison, considered by many historians to be an atheist, and Thomas Jefferson, an Enlightenment-era thinker who rejected the divinity of Christ and was in France at the time the document was written. “The words on the page speak for themselves.”

via Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source.

Story from the Onion (so of course its made up, but the underlying concept is so common today it amazes me.) That hits the nail on the head about a man defending his fictional version of the constitution, that sets out the religious origins of the country.  Of course his history and knowledge of the document are probably coming from a single source of ‘news’ so what would you expect.  Like the made up war on Christmas that has been thrown around in recent years (without the effort to do any research on Christmas) the arguments about the religous nature of our country and its founders could well do with a little fact checking themselves.  The part I always think is interesting is that in countries with state religions and that are now wealthy religion is dying, but here where we separated the two it has thrived.  Despite that fact, it seems some folks want a theocracy, which I would warn them might start the slow march towards their demise.

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In re: Is the public option ‘big government’?

I was struck recently that people in our country are really good at seperating government they like and ‘big government’.  I was up in Maine, in Acadia National Park, which is  truly one of the most amazing places I have been.  While on several ranger led hikes through the park I got to thinking about the ‘Government Program’ I was partaking in at the time.  I guessed that the people on the hike weren’t thinking that they we were experiencing a government program or experiencing ‘big government’.  After all the rangers were perfectly nice people who stayed around to answer questions and most everyone on these hikes seemed to enjoy them.

This past week I have been watching Ken Burn’s documentary on PBS about the National Parks (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea) which I have been enjoying a lot.  The 12 hours series repeatedly showed while discussing the origins of several of the parks the contrasts of National Parks and commercialized venues such as Niagara Falls.  It was interesting to see that the individuals who were instrumental in creating the parks, did so very often in the face of private industry seeking to capitalize on the land.  Places like Niagra Falls that are surrounded by wax musuems, casinos, etc stands in stark contrast to the parks.

Its possible that in one vein the enterprises were right, that in the short run the Grand Canyon would create a larger economic benefit if commercial enterprise came in.  The flaw I think is that under a capitalistic model the process of exploiting the economic value of the park is done so with a short range vision (those running the companies need to extract maximum value in their lifetime – some kind of tragedy of the commons like parallel) capitalism sometimes bypasses the effects and reduced benefits for people in 100, 200, 300 years that would be there if the park wasn’t polluted, mined, commercialized.

The story was the same for many parks, Arizonians fought the creation of the Grand Canyon as a national park, but fast forward to today and no one would say it was a bad decision.  Denali national park 40 years later in Alaska faced the same set of criticims from locales, only a short time later  they sought to expanded it.

So what is the point of all of this?  Well I guess it has got me thinking that there are a lot of flaws in capitalism (among others the free market assumes rational behavior something I have been interested to learn doesn’t exist – oh and no I haven’t seen Michael Moore’s movie yet before branding me a communist).  It just seems turning back to the health care debate that the free market has many potential flaws and I don’t think the free market works real well in delivering certain goods (nature as we just discussed, police & fire service didn’t do well as private enterprises and I am guessing not many people want to go back to private fire & police, the mail (despite Obama seemingly conceding (wrongly I believe) the US mail is not done well compared to Fedex and UPS, forgetting that Fedex and UPS do not deliver first class mail to every house in the country and that they will not deliver packages to all addresses in the US, as there are a few places that are too remote and costly, but the US mail has to by law), oh and of course the military, that so many anti government folks seem to be big fans of).  Health care, especially as long as we have a system where we provide universal emergency care, is not efficient as a divided up pie where some treatment is given if needed and other preventative aspects and proper nutrition and excercise are ignored.  Right now those of us with private health insurance spend a staggeringly large amount of money on  private bureaucracy, which despite that we are still put in the position of fearing bankruptcy if we have a catastrophic health problem, are faced with the fear of changing jobs due to possible loss of coverage  and I think many of us don’t even know what are true salary is (we are getting paid a whole lot less due to huge medical insurance costs we don’t see, if people were offered a gov’t option, no bells & whistles health care plan but got a lot higher take home pay, some of us might take that).

So while I’ll agree with you I am rambling and I may have missed the point I was hoping to make, the point is this, I think that our health care reform efforts have been greatly swung off track, the Democrats are missing a major opportunity to improve our country and we should be aiming higher.  We need to be ready to acknowledge that the free market might not deliver all products well, it didn’t make us un-American and undemocratic to create national parks and fire departments and creating a universal health plan won’t either.

In re: Guitar Hero culture

While lying in bed sick over the weekend I caught up on some Real Time with Bill Maher (via the podcast as I don’t have HBO) the show translates quiet well to an only audio experience and I applaud HBO for putting out the full show as a podcast.  Anyway in his closing bit, ‘new rules’ while making fun of a stampede on Americans Next Top Model (and equating it back to AIG somehow) he did point out what I thought was an interesting comment on our “Guitar Hero culture,  where everyone wants to be a rock star, but nobody wants to learn the chords.” Seems to be right on a number of levels in my mind, no offense to all the fans of the video game series (which to its credit seems a lot more active then a lot of other video games) but there is something interesting about pretending to play music rather than doing it (I guess you could say the same thing about a lot of video games)

In re: Neo imperialism

So there can be no doubt in anyones mind that the United States has moved into Iraq for a really long time – possibly forever – as the new US Embassy clearly shows.

Nothing says permanent U.S. occupation of Iraq more than the construction of the largest embassy in the world, a $474-million compound with 27 different buildings, 619 apartments and an Olympic-size swimming pool—all, of course, for a country with 26.7 million people and 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.

I hadn’t heard about this crazy embassy of the US in Iraq has now surpassed $700 million in construction costs and will cost the State Department over a billion a year to operate, standing as the largest embassy in the world.  Why so large?  Well of course this isn’t going to be a traditional embassy but rather a fully self contained outpost to allow the US to maintain our presence in the Middle East.

See Washington Post

In re: Ohio vs. NAFTA

The campaign has brought up (for Democrats at least) strong language against NAFTA (although you can’t get Hillary or Barrack to say they’d pull out) they do say that they would use the power to pull out to re-negotiate it with Canada and Mexico to include fairer terms (does Canada have a competitive advantage because of low labor standards?)  Unfortunately Ohio loves this kind of talk, we know we lost a lot of jobs in manufacturing, and its easy to point to something like NAFTA, but it really should be looked into a lot further as maybe more of the blame should fall on Ohio for its’ poor business environment (when they cut sweet heart deals with companies like Honda we see success, but GM and others continue to shed jobs burdened by both unions which have out lived their usefulness I believe as well as the horrible tax rates and business laws.  In reality its probably not NAFTA and it really is all kinds of competition, competition from more business friendly states and robotics are probably more to blame for the loss of auto jobs than anything else.

Unfortunately anytime times change (and oh boy they are changing) people need to retool, this means auto workers gotta stop clinging onto the idea of a fat pension and huge hourly wages when a robot will do it for cheaper and without the health insurance.  Retool means we need training programs and a climate that says it doesn’t mean your worthless, we gotta find something else for you to do (health care?).  Once the business climate improved companies inovate, grow and pretty soon we’d be in need again for those manufacturing jobs (retool back?) and we can start exporting to Mexico.

Let’s start with the fact that Texas’s growth puts the lie to the myth that free trade costs American jobs. Anti-Nafta rhetoric doesn’t play well in El Paso, San Antonio and Houston, which have become gateway cities for commerce with Latin America and have flourished since the North American Free Trade Agreement passed Congress in 1993. Mr. Obama’s claim of one million lost jobs due to trade deals is laughable in Texas, the state most affected by Nafta. Texas has gained 36,000 manufacturing jobs since 2004 and has ranked as the nation’s top exporting state for six years in a row. Its $168 billion of exports in 2007 translate into tens of thousands of jobs.”  ‘Texas v. Ohio‘  WSJ

There is a real good article in the Wall Street Journal ‘Texas v. Ohio’ on the Ohio fear of NAFTA and how Texas is loving it (and doing quite well because of it).   Also the rare article I’ll point to in USA Today “Our view on free trade: Bashing NAFTA misses real reason for factory job losses.  – Clinton, Obama hit wrong target. It’s productivity gains, not Mexico.”  So if USA Today gets it why can’t we get some people around here understanding that while we may have a problem, NAFTA ain’t it.

In re: Its 3am. Reading into this a bit too much?

You probably know about the White House phone call ad that Hillary Clinton put out prior to winning the Ohio and phone.jpgTexas primaries. Many people have been debating the ad (I thought the one on Real Time with Bill Maher was pretty good). Anyway, most people will agree that it is a negative ad (on Obama’s inexperience) and also pretty big in the direction of fear mongering, something Democrats I would have hoped would leave for the Republicans to be champions of. (See In re: Overblown on the issue of fear). Anyway back to the ad (oh you can watch it on YouTube if you missed it).

While I would have preferred to see candidates make ads that have a bit more substance, a bit less negative and a lot less fear, I don’t see at all the argument put forth by Orlando Patterson in the NY Times Op Ed “The Red Phone in Black and White“. The argument is that the ad is racist and harkens back to images such as ‘D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan. This is absurd in my opinion (and many comments on the NY Times site). The author, professor of sociology at Harvard, Orlando Patterson is probably used to looking at everything through racial glasses as that is probably his area of study (his recent book is “The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s ‘Racial’ Crisis.”)

Now I won’t deny that we still have racial problems in this country and I am all for being open and honest about the flaws we have had and still have with issues of race in America but I feel that while at Harvard studying our problems he should lay off whatever it was he was taking when he came up with article. Does the author think that following the ad we suddenly realized he was black and that the 12 states he won in a row didn’t realize that? (He is also wrong that the ad wasn’t shown in Ohio, but only in Texas – so not sure how much work was put into this piece)

when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.” (The Red Phone in Black and White)

Update: The Clinton campaign has responded and said that Patterson has apparently not watched the ad closely enough and that one of the children in the ad is black (kinda a dark shadow makes it tough to tell) but considering how every family in a commercial these days is multi ethnic its not surprising that the Clinton campaign showing multiple families would have sought complete diversity (next time Hilliary make sure they are blacker is apparently the new complaint)

In re: Plastic Bags

  • By cutting 100 million plastic bags a year San Francisco will save 1.5 million litres of oil, and eliminate 4.2 million kilograms of carbon dioxide….
  • 180 million: Roughly the number of plastic shopping bags distributed in San Francisco each year.
  • 2 to 3 cents: Amount each bag costs markets, compared with anywhere from 5 to 10 cents for a biodegradable bag.
  • 4 trillion to 5 trillion: Number of non degradable plastic bags used worldwide annually.
  • 430,000 gallons: Amount of oil needed to produce 100 million non degradable plastic bags.

(See SF First to Ban Plastic Shopping Bags)

You may have seen some of Live Earth today, or at least heard about it, pushed by Al Gore and his celebrity friends. The concert event that is going on on each continent trying to raise awareness about global warming. Now you may have your own opinion of these kind of events, for one I tend to be a bit cynical as you may know and the whole routine of shouting to the crowd “you are part of history” is always a strange thing, at least I think, this constant touting of where an event that is ongoing will be in viewed in history. Now once again, I am all for having events to raise awareness of the environment, but I question where this event today will be the thing that starts more large scale change.

Anyway, back to what I was starting with plastic bags, (the whole Live Earth is about small things) and plastic bags may seem small, but as you can imagine they take a huge toll on resources. The other day in Costco’s newsletter (page 16-17) I saw a poll on whether we should ban plastic bags for the whole country, which San Francisco has done and now Oakland as well. Now, for one you may know that Costco for one doesn’t use plastic bags (to save them money) and probably because those 8 gallon jugs of mayo wouldn’t fit in a bag anyway. Well it reminded me that for a while I have been meaning to buy reusable grocery bags and also I glanced at the story on SF which wasn’t able to put a deposit on bags or a tax due to a federal law, so they banned them. I say good idea, when I lived in Switzerland you either got free really small thin bags (think produce bags) or you could buy for pretty reasonably a pretty durable paper bag that was reusable, every now and again I’d forget to bring bags and buy some more reusable and the system worked really well (you also bag your own groceries which really sped things up as they have a second bay for the next person to start getting checked out while your bagging).

So why ban them? (The bags have already been outlawed in South Africa, Taiwan and Bangladesh. Ireland imposes a plastic-bag tax.) Couldn’t we come up with a market system to get rid of the, or to reflect the impact they have on the waste stream, the environment, our reliance on foreign oil to produce them? We could go that route, but while some of you federalists may not want the gov’t telling you what kind of bag to use, or not use, it seems to me a simple fix one way or the other we should do something about it (although I need to get out and practice what I am saying).