December 2, 2009

Political Speechmaking 101

How do they do it, those masters of political theatre?  How do they stir the blood, inspire votes, and espouse tenuous political positions all the while offsetting scorn and reproach?  Quite simple: the speech.  A good speech will correct a multitude of political and personal woes, as well as secure that fat cheque and cushy seat (along with all of the sweet perks of legislative and executive life that are so deserved; clearly read between the lines of the Constitution if you're smart enough to have gone to a progressive college).

I will here elucidate the art of the speech.  When you're done reading this, you too can perform a monologue that will briefly inspire and minimally offend the voting masses.  No need to thank me; my reward is the feeling I get knowing I, in some small way, helped another (that's a political speech tactic, by the way: praising yourself while looking selfless).  You'll learn how to find a message, deliver your point, and, most importantly, how to lie.  Let's begin!

The Message

In order to craft the perfect speech, you first have to know what the speech is for.  Now, while this may seem elementary, it's not as cut-and-dried (in politics) as you might think.  What you need to do is expunge your "traditional" idea of what a message is and embrace a higher definition.

A message, traditionally, has been though of as an idea, thought, or order transferred from one person to another or a group of others.  This, as we shall see, is not strictly true in politics.  Politically, a message is the information received by a person from another.  Though the difference appears semantical, it is not.  Let's say that you wish to relay information to a friend that a loved one of theirs has died.  While you think of it as sharing information, your friend will think of it as imparting grief.  Thus, the given message is one of information about the earthly demise of a loved one, but the received information is that you are a bringer of grief.

In politics, there is only one message that you ever want to portray: you are the best thing that could ever happen to whatever situation you are speaking about (unless you are speaking on behalf of a candidate, in which case your message is that your candidate is the best thing).  Let's take an example: Environmentalism.

Now, you might start a speech aimed at getting people to drive less with the idea that you're relaying information about how to save the planet.  Wrong, wrong, WRONG, WRONG!  What will people think?  How will they perceive you?  Probably as someone infringing on their right to travel about freely; in short, as an intruder at best and a tyrant at worst.  That won't do at all.  What you need is a gimmick!

A gimmick will get round all of those pesky notions that liberties are being threatened, you are a callous and/or heartless person, you've lost touch with the common man, blah blah blah.  Instead of, for the above example, focussing on how car exhaust damages the environment and, thus, we ought to drive less; focus on the actual or proposed damage and its effects.  Focus on the devastating flood that will be caused by global warming, or throw out some shots of a cuddly, baby polar bear drowning.  Play on fear and shame; two of our strongest emotions.

Viola!  Just like that, your message has gone from one of you being a tyrant and all around meany-mean (by relaying information only) to one of you being a nice and decent fellow who only wants what's best for everyone (by playing on emotion and possibly skirting the issue in favour of trumped-up rhetoric).  With that squared away, on to . . .

The Delivery

It has been claimed that it's not what you say, it's how you say it.  In politics, it is neither what you say nor how you say it; it's how it's reported.  And how are things reported in today's era of thirty-second-or-less attention spans?  Sound bites.

No useful media outlet will ever replay or quote an entire speech.  Those that do cater to the fringe elements that you can't persuade with a speech, anyway (pesky ideologues who form their opinions and political leanings on such transitive things as "facts" and "morality;" not the sort we're after).  Knowing this, you must cater your speech to brief, witty quotes that stand out enough to make an enterprising reporter think, "Hey, that's well written.  If I quote that, I won't have to do any writing myself!"

Take care, though, as this is a two-edged sword.  If you make a point that is antithetical to your message (the message that you are awesome) with too much wit or brevity, it is in danger of taking centre stage as the kingpin of your speech; at least, as it's reported.  To avoid this, and to ensure the "correct" message is sent out, a bit of artfulness is required.

First, the bites you want heard.  These are the quotes and sound bites that will portray you as a saviour, doctor, smart next-door neighbor; whatever effect it is you wish to promote for your current agenda.  Plan these carefully to come at the beginning or end of your talking points (paragraphs in print), and preferably save the juiciest ones for the beginning and end of the speech itself.  It's so easy to get lost in the mix, so don't make some poor reporter have to dig for the gems!

In the same way, you'll also want to bury undesirable items.  Avoid them or ignore them if you can, but every now and again you will have to say something that could possibly make people perceive you as less than the incredible person that you are (at least, that you want them to believe you are).  Bury these points in the middle of the speech, and in the middle of the paragraphs.  Further, make sure they are buried in the middle of a sentence; and make sure the sentence is as dull and drab as you can make it.  Force any reporter with an axe to grind to appear to be "fishing" by ensuring any negative sound bites will be surrounded by ellipses (you know, the ". . .").  That way, the dry, uninteresting tidbit they picked out of your otherwise stellar speech will appear to be missing vital context that, in light of the glowing sound bites reported elsewhere, must exonerate you from any shadow of perceived malfeasance.

Speaking of malfeasance . . .

The Lie

This is far more simple and more elegant than the first two portions.  In fact, it can readily be used to promote either a good image of you, a great sound bite, or both!

If you're going to lie (which will be most of the time), always start off with a variant of the word "clearly."  Since you're introducing what you're saying with the word "clearly," anyone who doubts your authenticity can now be called an idiot as your statement was, definitively, quite clear.

Let's go with our Environmentalist example.  Your goal is to decrease people's use of vehicle technology, but you don't want anyone to think that.  There are several ways to handle this, all with the use of the wonderful "clearly."  The easiest is to simply state the opposite of your intentions, such as: Clearly, I have no ambition to limit the use of modern vehicle technology.  Now, if anyone wants to challenge you on this, they'll have to boldly come forward and call you a liar.  That would be rude, so they probably won't do it.  QED.

But what if a more artful approach is necessary?  The more complex the lie, the more complex the use of the word "clearly."  Another form of the word may be in order; a more forceful one, even.  Let's say that you're in favour of a policy that would inevitably lead to a rise in taxes.  You could explain how the policy is necessary, and the American people will understand and accept the sacrifice, it will save children, etc.; but who's going to listen to all that?  Besides, it still leaves the impression that you're for a tax hike, which, even though you are, is never popular.  Instead, simply say: Let me be clear: my proposal will in no way add a single penny to anyone's taxes.  Much easier and clearer than some long, drawn out explanation that no one will listen to in any case.  Remember: sound bites.

Contrarily, you could claim that the negative of your premise is "clearly" incorrect.  Using the above example, you could say: Clearly, there is no evidence to support the ridiculous notion that this proposal will lead to a tax hike.  Not a bad sound bite, but best to bury it anyway as it contains a potential negative.  Follow up with something like: In fact, this plan will most likely lead to a tax savings.  Though you didn't use "clearly" in the second sentence, it was linked to the first which did contain a "clearly."  If you want to be extra sure, combine the two sentences with a semicolon; no one reads anything long enough to contain a semicolon.  To bring it home, "sum it all up" with a sound bite quip that can't be passed up, like: Our consciences will not bear the possibility of disaster because we failed to act.

And there you have it.  Lather, rinse, repeat and you've got yourself a political speech guaranteed to get you or keep you in office!  (1,000 political jobs were created or saved with this blog post.)

November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Revisited

We all know the story.  The Pilgrims disembark from the Mayflower to start a new life in the New World.  Times are tough, and they, for some reason, have forgotten how to farm.  Luckily, some natives stop by and teach them how to work the land.  A great harvest is brought in and everyone feasts together.  Afterward, they go to a nearby hill and hold hands while singing John Lenin's Imagine and crying.

Except for that last part, that's basically how I learned it in elementary school.  I don't believe it was ever revisited during my tenure at higher education.  So, like with most things, I was left to my own devices to become educated on our nation's history.  I would like to share what I found.

I must warn you, however, that this will not be the standard story you may have held on to that closely mirrors the myth above.  This will not be the stuff of children's plays and Thanksgiving greeting cards (more's the pity).  If you would rather live with a caricature of history in your mind, by all means please stop reading now.  If you, like me, would rather the truth than a fairy tale, read further.

At the start of the Plymouth colony, all lived in a communal advent.  Each person was to work equally and to collect equally.  There was no individual property, but communal property.  Though this predated the work of Marx by some 228 years, they were living in a communism (though the colonists took the rubric from Plato, so it's not really a new concept).  William Bradford, Pilgrim and governor of the Plymouth colony for some 35 years, had this to say about the communistic experiment:

"For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it."
-William Bradford

In seeking equality, they had found a particular oppression.  Discontent was bred amoung the colonists.  Radio stations refused to play Imagine, and Che shirt sales were at an all time low.

Bradford needed a new direction.  He believed that, "God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them."  Instead of community property and stores, he decided to divide the land by family and population, with each being able to work his own parcel as he saw fit.  The free-market was thus born in the United States (though not yet the United States).

The result?  According to Bradford:

"This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression."
-William Bradford

In fact, the Pilgrims had so much from their harvest that not only did they not go starving, but they were able to export corn back to Europe!

So, what was the real first Thanksgiving?  A giving of thanks to God for showing the colonists the err of communism and allowing them to embrace the free-market system.  While you may think that's rhetoric or politically motivated, it is fact.  It is history.

I thought communism was an outdated idea that has been shown a failure for these past 100 years.  I was wrong.  It has been shown a failure at least these past 388 years.  It is not a bold, new idea; it is not progressive.  The question is: will we learn from our forefathers, or make the same mistakes they did through our ignorance and hubris?

November 18, 2009

Free Dumb

Have you ever watched someone eating and driving, or mountain biking with no helmet, or listening to Hannah Montana and just wanted to reach out and smack them?  Seriously; what's wrong with some people?  Isn't there anything we can do to curb this blatant idiocy before they all start to breed and promulgate the "stupid" gene?

Sadly, the answer appears to be "yes."  Here are a couple of the more blatant examples from recent legislation:
-Driving with a Cell Phone
-Smoking in Restaurants

The banning of these things is atrocious, and patently un-American.  Don't believe me?  Read on, my pinko-commie-fascist friend!

Driving with a Cell Phone
Yes, driving must have rules for safety.  No, I'm not advocating for a complete abolition of traffic safety regulations and stop lights.  What I'm getting at is that when the government bans cell phone use in the car, it is arbitrary and intrusive.  In short, it is legislating behaviour and not action.

We all know people who can drive, talk on the cell-phone (non hands-free, no less), blare the radio, and eat a burger at the same time all while staying in their lane and avoiding an accident.  Contrarily, we also know those who could have hands at 10 and 2, no superfluous noise, no passengers, and no controlled substances in them and still manage to hit a parked bus while going the wrong way down a one-way street.  The behaviour of the second driver is much more conducive to good driving, but the actions are not.

Now, does a cell phone distract someone while they are driving?  Of course, to a greater or lesser degree.  So does the radio, a passenger, the events of your day, billboards, a passing S-10 slammed with 24" rims, and a three hundred pound man in spandex trying to jog.  With all of these distractions (and more), how do we ensure that people are being safe while driving?  Do we institute a law that bans looky-loos from rubbernecking at accidents or joggers?  Ban eating in the car?  Outlaw car radios?  Ban cell phone use?  Limit vehicles to the driver only to avoid distractions from passengers?

The answer is what we've already done.  You can't (or, at least, shouldn't) legislate behaviour; only actions.  We implement laws stating how one must drive; stay in your lane, speed limits, the person on the right at a four-way stop has the right of way, etc.  If you can follow all of those while playing pong on your modded DS, so be it.  If you can't follow them even while doing everything you learned in driver's-ed, prepare for tickets, insurance claims, and friends always offering to drive.

Smoking in Restaurants
But, but second hand smoke kills!  Think of the poor waiters and waitresses that are dying just because they went to work!  The children; think of the children!!!!!  You don't hate children . . . do you?

Here's a novel idea for all those (including me) who don't want to dine or work in a dingy, smoke-filled restaurant or bar: don't.  Go somewhere else.  Do you know what happens to businesses that have people that won't patronise them due to a policy of theirs?  They change the policy or go out of business.  It's called "voting with your feet," and it's even more effective than real voting.

But don't you, the waitress, and the children have a right to not smoke if you choose not to?  Of course.  At the same time, the owner of the restaurant has a right to allow smoking in their property.  Should you refrain from dining there, both sets of rights remain intact.  Should you be forced to dine there, or the owner forced to ban legal smoking there, one or the other's rights have been infringed.

If you infringe upon another's rights to life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness, you have crossed the line from simply exercising your rights to outright bullying.  Laws that infringe on one person's rights to stave off the possibility of having another's violated (and not the imminent possibility, like traffic laws) are merely state-sanctioned bullying.  This is why so many people are against cell-phone laws, seat-belt laws, smoking bans in restaurants, and the like.  (Disclaimer: follow the laws, people.  Just because you disagree doesn't get you off the hook from following it.  But, we do have a system in place to change the laws.)

The bottom line in all this is that you have the right to be an idiot.  You have the freedom to be dumb.  You can't (constitutionally) legislate someone out of being stupid, but you can legislate against things stupid people do that affect the rights of others.  No, talking on a cell phone while driving does not affect anyone's rights.  No, smoking legal substances on private property does not affect anyone's rights.  But banning them does.

November 16, 2009

To Whom Do You Bow?

There's been a lot of talk about President Obama's bowing to foreign leaders; first the king of Suadi Arabia, and now the Emperor of Japan.  Here are the infamous pictures (Google it if you need video to believe it; basically, it's exactly what it looks like):

OK, so he bowed.  What's the big deal?  Isn't bowing just a show of respect?  Many view this as simply a cultural advent.  Having lived in Japan for a little less than a year, I can personally attest to the reality that a bow in Japan is more of a handshake than anything else.  So why the hubbub (and, more germane to this page, why am I writing about it)?

It's time for a history lesson; followed by a cold, hard truth that many Americans want to shut their eyes to.

First, the history.  American Presidents have never bowed to foreign heads of state (and, classically but not as a rule, American citizens in general haven't either).  It is not only tradition, but a matter of close-held principle.  One finds the theory for this in the Constitution, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.

Now, this may, at surface, seem like a simple matter of our United States not granting its own citizens the titles of Duke, Lord, etc. to avoid the entrapments found under British rule; and to an extent that would be correct.  However, the essence of this law reaches much further than the letter of it.  In order to understand a law, one must first understand the moral that the law is supposed to implement.  The best quote I could think of (though a myriad of more obscure quotes exists) comes out of the Declaration of Independence:
All men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

The two major facets of this quote are the beliefs that: 1. All people are created beings, and 2. The Creator made all people fundamentally equal; i.e., having the same, basic rights.  This belief is often expressed today in the concept of "human rights."  The fact that most believers in "human rights" seem to eschew the advent of a Creator, though inconsistent in my opinion, does not change the fact that human beings are seen as equal amoungst themselves.

Flowing from this idea (or, as I would put it, truth) that human beings have equal rights, a title of nobility cannot be imparted as it would grant the owner of said title special, additional rights.  It would, in essence, claim that noble as a superior human to his or her fellows.  From this idea, the founders wrote Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8.

Logically, one cannot deny a title of nobility to one's countrymen on the basis that all men are created equal, and then turn around and recognise a title of nobility for a foreigner.  That is why the Presidents of the United States have never bowed to a foreign power.  Not only would it signal our entire nation's fealty to that foreign leader (though not through policy; only symbolically), but it also recognises that leader's superiority to the common man.  This is about as un-American as it gets, barring a reversion to slavery.

Flowing from this are other ideals and actions, such as the US flag dipping to no nation.  Many globalists (and ignorant Americans who wish to sound "cultured") simply view this as American hubris, but this misses the mark by a long shot.  The refusal of our armed services and Olympians to dip the United States flag to another country, leader, etc. stems from the idea that the United States stands for all free men, and that free men do not bow to anyone but God (and, even then, at their choosing).  It symbolises the reality that no men are born better than their fellows, and that certain rights are innate to all men; handed down from their Creator.

So, that's the basic history.  Now for the reality.

Many (if not most) people in America take the exercise of their rights as a given.  They believe that the ability to speak, worship, and express themselves freely is a natural thing, and that it is a permanent advent.  They often, as a result, believe the poeples of other countries to be inferior, weaker, or "differently righted" than those of this country.  Each of these conclusions are antithetical to the ideal we've discussed thus far.  These conclusions are what enable people to say things like, "Oh, the Chinese just live in a different culture.  Freedom wouldn't work over there."  The illogicality of this statement is so manifest that I won't here enumerate it; suffice to say, all people would wish to be delivered from the barrel of a gun if they're facing it.

Note that above I said "exercise of their rights," not simply "rights."  Remember, rights are innate and handed down from our Creator.  They are not dictated to man by man, but discovered by man in man.  The exercise of these rights is proper and correct for mankind.  From this, we logically can surmise that all people, regardless of geography or the flag they live under, are entitled to these rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness).

Why, then, are the people in China, or Vietnam, or North Korea, or Cuba, or a slue of other nations not able to exercise these rights?  Why can we in America?  The conclusion that Americans are innately different than their fellow humans around the globe is unsatisfactory.  If that were true (that we as Americans "just won't be pushed around"), then there does exist a class or caste hierarchy amoung men, and rights are not equal across the board.  We reject that premise.

To what, then, do we attribute this global disparity?  The simple answer is usually the best answer.  In this case: government.  There exists a uniform set of rights amoung people; there is not a uniform government.  Now, I'm not bucking for global government here.  I think each nation ought to rule itself, and that local government is the best government.  But, I would like to throw out the idea that men live under different rules because of the different governments they live under.  Of the democracies and republics, the rights to free expression, religion, and speech are generally exercised with little impediment.  Of the communisms, despotisms, monarchies, etc., those rights are usually limited to a greater or lesser degree.  And why not?  If nobility exists, in whatever form, why not unequal rights?  It is logical, but it argues from a faulty premise.

Here's the truth Americans generally don't want to look at: the exercising of our rights is not guaranteed.  Neither is it a permanent part of the landscape.  If we are, indeed, men like any other; and if, as we know is the case, men elsewhere are denied the free exercise of these rights: therefore, we can be denied the free exercise of these rights.  If other men, whose freedoms are repressed, live under repression because of their government; therefore we could live under repression with the same form of government as them.

We as Americans need to realise that our rights are granted; not guaranteed.  Like a garden, our government must be tended, weeded, cared for, and protected to flourish.  Our purpose in managing our government, just like managing a garden, must be deliberate and with a clear goal in mind.  Are we tending the garden, or have we let the weeds from within and the elements from without hinder its purpose?

Stuff I Believe

All men are created equal.

Global Warming (or, if you will, Climate Change) is a hoax and a shakedown.

Majority consensus does not equal correct or appropriate action.

Most people like to be led.  Most leaders are not to be trusted.

You will never argue someone out of dogma.

Force can only change actions, not beliefs.

Everyone has faith; just in various things and to various degrees.

If you can't beat 'em, it doesn't get you off the hook from fighting.

It is not arrogance to believe that others are wrong.  If you don't believe this, you hold nothing to be true.

The Earth is not 4.5 billion years old, and the evidence pointing to it being so is scant.

The best advice is usually what we would least like to hear.

We all know how to act properly towards one another.

Unprotected left turns are generally a very good thing.

Law enforcement, education, and most other things properly start in the home.

You can believe whatever you want to believe, but just because you're entitled to believe it doesn't mean you're entitled to be free from dissent.

Jesus is the Christ.

The end never justifies the means.

If something is right, it is right.  If wrong, wrong.  We shouldn't be afraid to say so.

Truth does not rely on numbers.

Personal liberty for all inevitably means someone, somewhere, is going to do something you don't like.

Being unique is not a virtue intrinsically.  Welcome to the biggest club in history; six billion strong and counting.

No one cares that your parents didn't get along; they only care that you're acting like a child.

If the entire world disagrees with you, you ought to entertain the possibility that the entire world is wrong.  You also ought to entertain this possibility if the entire world agrees with you.

Your opinion doesn't matter without corresponding action.

To be continued . . .

November 13, 2009

How to Rein in Crazy Spending

There needs to be a debate not only about getting spending under control, but about how to get that spending under control.  I think, as you know if you read my first post, that we need to put the power back in the hands of the States.  When control is local, power is accessible by the voter.  When control is Federal, power is spread over such a wide swatch that it is easy to manipulate a majority of the masses and tyrannize the rest of us (this has been thoroughly exposited elsewhere, so I'll go with this as a given).

So what, exactly, are we dealing with, here?  How much spending is sent where, and who does most of the spending?  By how much?  These are questions I had, so I went about finding some answers.  In order to tackle a problem, one would do well to first know exactly what needs to be fixed.  If a light suddenly goes out, I want to know if it's the bulb before I start tearing out drywall and rewiring the house.

For others who would like to know this information as well (and, hopefully, to spark some conversation aimed at solutions), I have compiled a couple of charts (using a great little tool at  The first is Interest, Education, Welfare, Health, and Pensions spending.  The second is Defense, Transportation, Protection, General, and Other spending.  The third is Debt and the Federal Deficit.  I have them broken down by Total, Federal, State, and Local.  Without further ado- charts!





The first thing I see here is that Federal debt's out of control (not that State and Local are anything to smile about).  The second is that the Federal government is spending at a higher percentage of the total than the State and Local governments combined.  The third is that there's a lot of spending going on that doesn't actually produce anything (though that's a Federal, State, and Local problem as well).  These last two, and possibly all three, could be cured by getting the money back where it belongs and was always intended to reside.

I don't, personally, see that the Fair Tax nor Flat Tax will solve this problem and get the money back in the hands of the States (aside from defense and some of the general and other spending, which are properly the jurisprudence of the Federal government).  I also don't know that repealing the 16th Amendment will do this as the Federal government still has the power to lay an income tax (among others; the 16th Amendment merely defines the way in which the Federal government may abuse the income tax unconstitutionally, not whether or not it's lawful for the Federal government to tax income).  They're still very good ideas, and they probably would be a heck of a lot easier to implement than a Constitutional Amendment, but I think that only a Constitutional Amendment would do the trick completely instead of being a band-aid on a trauma victim.

I'm a big fan of putting all of the taxation in the hands of the several States, directly, and having the Federal government funded by the States, indirectly (as it relates to the people and their property, that is).  This would allow the law of Uniformity (per the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1), but would also allow the States enough autonomy to decide upon whatever form of taxes they choose.  This may make an issue with Apportionment, but I don't know if that could be covered in the language of a proposed amendment.  Something like:

Amendment to the Constitution of the United States for the Regulation of Federal Monetary Appropriations
1.  The sixteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
2.  The Congress' power to collect duties, taxes, imposts, and excises shall be limited to thirty per cent of all revenue collected by the several states; such funds are hereby to be collected by the Congress from the States directly.  For the purposes of this clause, interest on state-owned investments shall not be considered collected revenue by the state which owns the investment.  This clause shall constitute the fulfillment of the apportionment and uniformity clauses in Article one, Section two, paragraph three and Article one, Section eight, paragraph one.
3.  The Congress shall be limited in its exercise of spending to the powers specifically enumerated by Article one, Section eight.  The term "General Welfare of the United States" in Article one, Section eight, paragraph one shall be defined as the intent of the powers granted to the Congress in Article one, Section 8, and shall not be construed as a separate duty or power from those listed.
4.  All persons claiming entitlement to government monies or services outside of the powers enumerated to the Congress in Article one, Section eight, shall have recourse to appeal for said monies or services to the state in which they reside.  The states shall fulfill or deny any claims as their legislatures shall see fit.
5.  This amendment absolves all responsibility of the Congress for any appropriations, payouts, services, or otherwise that do not fall within the powers enumerated in Article one, Section eight, as clarified by this amendment.
6.  Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

I'm not certain on the percentage of the total that the Federal government ought to be entitled to; I took thirty per cent by taking the (rough) total per cent currently going to the Federal government and subtracting the (rough) percentages of things the Federal government is paying for but ought not be (as they fall outside of the enumerated powers).  The number has a very wide margin of error, so it could reasonably be much higher or lower.  This is just an idea for the wording and spirit of such a proposal.

The only problem with this plan?  It would either have to go through a Constitutional Committee or a Constitutional Convention.  The first would be made up of US Congress people and, hence, would probably go no further.  I don't trust legislators to pass an amendment through committee that will limit their powers; if anything, they've proven over the last century that people will do almost anything to hang on to their power (except, for some reason, the general population of the United States).  The second, a Constitutional Convention, is a bad idea because it opens the door for all kind s of frivilous and wacky junk that the fringe elements of our society have waited for decades to march out.  Right alongside this amendment to right the wrongs of the 20th century politicians would be amendments for free health care, outlawing hunting, and mandatory health clubs for polar bears.  And a big global warming amendment, but that's another subject.

Notwithstanding, I think a case could be made that this would be far easier to implement than term limits.  Perhaps that could be a platform for it; scare the politicians with term limits, then slip this in and tell them we'll stop with the term limits if they pass this amendment.  We can throw in a free trip to the country with the mistress of their choice to sweeten the pot.

November 11, 2009

Real Revolutionary

This is not a real revolutionary:

This is a real revolutionary:

Never forget what people stand for.  It can remind you of the difference between true heroism and common thuggery.

November 10, 2009

One Blood

To say that race is big in our country is to say that Godzilla is a mild blemish on the Tokyo skyline.  Racial issues dominate the workplace, elections, legislation, and many people's entire worldviews.  Here are a couple of notable quotes to illustrate my point:

"In the 21st century, white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns."
-Rev. Jeremiah Wright

"If O.J. had been accused of killing his black wife, you would not have seen the same passion stirred up."
-Rev. Al Sharpton

"An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."
-Jimmy Carter

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."
-Sonya Sotomayor

"I love being famous.  It's almost like being white."
-Chris Rock

 All of which begs the question: what is race?  Though most have contemplated racial issues, I doubt very much they have taken the time to exactly define race.  Is it skin colour?  Eye shape?  Ancestral region?  Cuisine?

Most definitions I've seen pivot around a central theme: hereditary differences in appearance, mainly skin tone combined with distinct facial features.  This idea was popularised in the nineteenth century mainly by the works and followers of Darwin, with the main racial groups being Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid.  We know them today as White, Black, and Asian.  I would submit that, adding Latino, these would be the major, accepted races in the minds of most Americans (others, of course, exist; I'm being very general, here).

Are these classifications correct?  Rather than posit a long, drawn-out comparison of cultural and political perspectives ranging from the ancient Mayans to the modern Slovakians, let's get objective.  Let's talk about DNA as it relates to race.

Genetically, the average difference between any two humans is 0.2%.  This is the same whether the people being compared are both black, one white and one latino, or any other combination you can think of.  At the same time, the makeup of the human genome as it relates to race (skin colour, hair colour, facial features, etc.) is only about 0.012% of the total genome.  Therefore, biologically, there is no such thing as race.  We must conclude that it is purely a social construct.

"But wait," you say, "there are proven differences in the races!  What about IQ scores, or cancer rates, or the racial makeup of athletes?"

That's a good point.  If no real differences exist in the so-called races, why the statistical differences?  Well, you know the old saying: statistics don't lie, but you're stupid (to paraphrase).  Let me explain:

Suppose you have four people being tracked for a case study on colon cancer.  One is an affluent white, two are impoverished blacks, and one is an impoverished white.  Each gets colon cancer.  The affluent white, after leading a generally healthy life full of groceries from Whole Foods (or, as we po' folk like to call it, "Whole Paycheck") and getting the best medical assistance available, beats the disease.  The three others, after living a life mainly subsiding on Top Ramen and Spam and getting medical assistance from WebMD and an inner-city hospital staffed by "doctors" with associates degrees in finger-painting, succumb to the illness.  Statistically, 50% of whites (in our hypothetical study) beat colon cancer while 0% of blacks do.

The problem is, statistics are separated from the entirety of the subject's experience.  When we try to boil people down to "black" or "white" or whatever else, we fail to take into context cultural issues; like environment, customs, eating habits, access to medical facilities, upbringing, and a myriad of other facets.  We fail to see the whole person for their vast litany of experiences and the social structure surrounding them and we attribute everything to the paltry 0.012% of their genome that we can see at a glance.

This is not to say that there are no attributes of merit that may be attributed to race (such as a higher predilection towards a certain infirmity, or other such thing), but even this is not as cut and dried as it first appears.  The main culprit for this phenomenon is people grouping together who share a common ancestor; not the innate differences of a "race."  If heart disease runs in your family (as it does mine), you're more likely to get heart disease.  If your family happens to be asian, that doesn't equate to all asians having a predilection to heart disease.  It may not even be that your family carries the gene; it may be that your family loves to eat country fried steak covered in Crisco three times a day and that's been a family tradition for a hundred years.

We like things to be neat and calculable.  We want one flow chart that has a cool, 3D pie graph of everything we need to know about society.  Since race is tracked like no other facet of our lives (I can't remember ever being asked to list my height or BMI or favourite colour on a job application), it is easy to classify people based on this trait alone.  Before you do, though, let's look at one other thing: the definition of racism.

While there are a lot of definitions out there for this term, I propose a new one.  My definition is unique in that it has no political origin, nor does it contain a positive or negative connotation.  In that, I find it far more accurate and applicable (as objective things normally are).  So, without further ado, Skipper's definition of racism:
racism  ˈrāˌsizəm (noun)
-The classification of a person based solely on their race.
racist noun and adjective
Jesse Jackson racist and idiot

That wasn't so hard, was it?  Now you'll be able to tell, beyond politics and personal opinion, if a statement is truly racist or not.  Let's have some examples!

Answer whether the following statements and organisations are racist or not.  No cheating, talking, or open books.  This will go towards your final grade.
She is a typical white person.  Racist or not?
African-Americans watch the same news at night that ordinary Americans do.  Racist or not?
The Congressional Black Caucus  Racist or not?
Aryan Nation  Racist or not?

Pencils up!  Answers?  They're all racist; thanks for playing.

If it classifies by race, it is racist.  A study on race as it relates to prison recidivism is racist.  Hiring based on skin colour is racist.  Political and charitable organisations which have a racial prerequisite for admittance or a goal of promoting people based on their ethnicity (NAACP, KKK, Black Panthers, UNCF, MEChA, etc.) are racist.

Now, I know this may sound harsh to some, but remember that the definition is strictly factual; what you connote with it is your own.  The United Negro College Fund exists to promote black students going to college.  Its purpose is to promote individuals based solely on their race, and is, therefore, definitively racist.  Whether you agree with their aim or not has nothing to do with the fact that they practise their charity based solely on race.

The problem is, there are a lot of people in this country (particularly in politics) who think it's bad to be a racist, but still classify people based on their race.  I would rather they just come out and be honest and say that they favour one race over another.  If you're ashamed of the logical label for your actions, maybe you ought not be doing them.

So, are you a racist?

November 6, 2009

The 10th Amendment and You

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Seemingly so simple, but these twenty-eight words have been constantly misconstrued, circumvented, or flat out ignored.

So what?  It's just a bunch of old-school rhetoric spewed out by some powdered-wig sporting fundamentalists over two hundred years ago.  Move along; nothing to see here.

Or is it something more than that?  Not to hide my bias (not that I could; why else write a treatise on the 10th?), I find it horribly relevant today.

This amendment, last of the Bill of Rights, can be seen as a conclusion to the Constitution as it was originally written; sort of a catch-all for anything not covered in the rest of the document.  To fully understand its significance, one first must understand the intent of the framers for the Constitution.  Here are a couple of quotes that might help out:

"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."
-Thomas Jefferson

"A republic is the best of governments."
-John Adams

"Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution."
-James Madison

I could go on all day, but a lot of you were probably educated in public school so you have neither the patience nor the ability to read anything written prior to 1995 (for the record, I was also educated in public school; I'm just a snob).  The point is, the founders were pretty united by two ideas:
1.  Rights are innate to man, not granted by the government.
2.  Local politics are the best politics, because the public has more control over them (the basis for a Republic over a Democracy).

The first point, that our rights are innate and not granted by government, is a simple notion with severe ramifications (I'll leave the religious question out of it, for now).  If it is true, then there are things that we, as humans, have a right to; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come to mind.  Any government infringing on these rights (no matter how cool their "Che" pictures look) is violating the very nature of mankind.  If, on the other hand, it is not true; then all rights are arbitrary and may be enforced or repressed at the will of whoever happens to be in power.  I'll take "true" for 304 million, Alec.

The second point, that local politics are the best politics, makes all kinds of sense if you think about it (it actually makes sense even if you don't think about it, but it’s best that you do; instead of just mindlessly following along like a zombie without cool powers and a thirst for brains).  Not only does a person have more relative clout in a local election (one vote in a town of 10,000 voters is 0.01% of the vote, whereas one vote among 131,000,000 voters is only about 0.00000076%), but they have the advantage of having lived around the person running for office.  In essence, it makes it much harder for a politician to "image build."  Kind of like when Jesus said, "a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown" (oh no, the J-word!).  Basically, unless we're talking about Jesus, we would know the person running for office and know that they can't walk on water; regardless of what their PR guys tell you.

So, what does this all have to do with the 10th Amendment?  Well, once we understand that the Constitution was not meant to grant the Federal government power but to limit the scope of the Federal government's power, we can look at it in a proper light.  In a nutshell, it says that whatever isn't laid out in the Constitution is left in the hands of the People and their States.  Think about that for a minute.  It means that whatever rights you think you have and whatever powers you think the government ought to have, barring what's already written down in the Constitution, are supposed to be dealt with at the State or interpersonal level.  The House of Representatives and the Senate are not supposed to be the major law-making bodies in these United States; the State and local legislatures are supposed to be.

Now, for those of us who grew up post horse-and-buggy days, this seems like a foreign concept.  We vote for President, maybe Senators, and call it a day- er, decade.  Whereas I could wax grumpy about people not getting involved locally, I won’t because I can hardly blame them.  These days, most laws are handed down from on high, while the local-yokels are there to try to bend them to suit our needs (or their own needs, if you live in California).  People don’t get involved in local politics because they don’t see the relevance; and I’m not sure that they’re wrong.  At least in practise.

But journey with me now [insert dream-sequence music here] into a magical realm, ruled by the 10th Amendment.  All taxes go to your local government first, and most of them stay in your town.  You and your neighbors decide what the rules are for schooling your children, funding your parks, police, fire, and city services.  You decide where the roads need to be improved, bridges built, and monuments erected (PM me if you need a pic of me in a Superman suit for your town square; I’ve got like a dozen of them and they’re not moving on eBay).  Want universal health care for your city or state?  Go for it!  Next to no government intervention in life and business?  You’re the boss!  But wait, where’s the Federal government?  Don’t worry; they’re busy doing the only things they’re allowed to, like having a military and managing our (limited) international role.

OK, wake up.  We’re not in dreamland anymore.  The good news is, a lot of the above is still possible even under the current paradigm (I hate using that word; let’s pretend I said “zeitgeist”).  The difference is, a lot of your tax money is going to the Federal government first and the local governments a distant second, third, or fiftieth.  It’s not that government isn’t supposed to provide for schooling, welfare, health care, and the like; it’s that the Federal government is not supposed to.  Those sorts of decisions were intended to be made on the State and local levels, where the people with the most at stake have the most control.

How do we fix it?  Repealing the 16th Amendment would be a good start (that’s a whole ‘nother blog for a whole ‘nother time), but it takes something both bigger and simpler than that.  We need to change the way we think about our country and the type of government it has.  Would you call us a Democracy?  I think most Americans would.  There’s an old joke that says, “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”  We need to stop looking at our country as a simple majority rule system.  We were set up far better and more elegantly than that.

We are a Republic.  Our rights are our own, and the government is set up to ensure those rights do not get trampled.  We and our neighbors determine our own destiny.  We have all of the strengths of a large nation, but all of the virtues of a small town.  We flex global and act local.  Until we can get back to these concepts, America is doomed to slip from what made it great into the mediocrity epidemic throughout the rest of the world.  The choice, and the burden, are ours.