It's 11:39PM on the eve of the Great Tea Revolt. As I sit here, fresh off of my 12-hour shift at work, the national media is reporting headlines like G.O.P. Captures House and "Midterm Train Wreck"; the Republicans (particularly in their hard-right Tea Party libertarian wing) are winning this battle. And I thought to myself, "You know what the world needs? More amateur political commentary!" So here's my wingnut list, my moonbat list, my this-will-be-embarrassing-if-I-ever-run-for-office list. Here's what I wish the country, and the world could do. It's no more achievable than are the Randian dreams of a world without government where the poor die in gutters and the rich get richer (oh wait...), but, hey, one can dream.
I think I have a pretty straightforward idea for how basic social policies should work: if you're a legal adult, of legal sound mind, you can do whatever you want to yourself and with other consenting legal adults. Want to smoke random ganja? Sure, just don't do it where other people are picking up your second-hand smoke. Want to marry another man, woman, or hermaphrodite? Knock yourself out. Think that a painless death is preferable to months of pain at the hands of some obscure cancer? That's your call.
Government's job is to mediate the interactions between people, to bring us out of a Hobbesian state of nature, and to make our lives better.
- EDUCATION! We live in a world where it is a legitimate and successful political strategy to portray your opponent as being too smart. We live in a world that actively thinks knowledge is bad. This points to a gaping error in our education system somewhere. My coworker, the inimitable Jeremy Latt has some pretty wild ideas about education. I'm not sure I agree with them, but I do know one thing. The first thirteen years of my education (which is to say, the thirteen years in the Fall River Public Schools) were wasted. I learned almost nothing compared to what I did in four years at Mudd. I was never challenged. I was herded like a sheep into classes that I slept in because of my unerring ability to parrot back what the teacher wanted to hear. And I was (and still am) one of the people who actually gave a flying fuck about learning, about weighty concepts like mathematics. The others? The ones who weren't being taught anything of value by the schools and who weren't motivated to learn on their own? I shudder to think of where this recession is finding them. But I suspect it's on the far end of a welfare cheque. What we have now does a lot of things, but what it doesn't do is work.
- Privacy is a legitimate right. I understand that we need to balance security in interpersonal interactions with privacy. But the security theater of a TSA officer either feeling me up or looking at me naked isn't designed to make us safer, it's designed to get us used to the idea that we don't have any privacy in the face of the watchful eye. Cory Doctrow is about 800 times more libertarian than I am, but I still think all of you should go read his books. Even though it's just a "young adult" novel, I particularly enjoyed Little Brother.
- Separation of church and state: also important. If you're an American, odds are that I disagree with you about religion. Although if you're an American reading my blog (hello all three of you), that is less likely to be true. But the fact of the matter is, I don't want you telling me what to believe, and you sure as hell don't want me telling you what to believe. Intelligent Creation isn't a scientific theory, it's religious propaganda. And, no, Texas and Kentucky, I also don't want you spending tax dollars and public land to put up a giant status to the decalogue. Unless you're going to put up every other religious and political document that's affected your judicial history. No? Then no. Also, I don't care if your religion says gay people are bad (even though it's quite hard to point to such a clause in the Bible). My philosophy says that believing something because a guy in a big hat tells you to is bad. Let's agree to not enforce either of our moralities on one another, mmmmkay?
- There are tons of race and gender relations issues in our society. As an upper-middle-class straight white male, I'm just going to get shot down if I pretend that I can speak eloquently about them. But they're there. I think they're probably getting better; I don't think I've ever seen anybody in my generation obviously discriminating against somebody for their skin color, and growing up it was in fact expected that women would be smarter and earn more than men. Which made it odd when I got to Mudd and was told that women were discriminated against in STEM fields. Never would have guessed that when all of the honors and higher classes in high school were 60-70% women... Anyhow, none of this fixes things, mind you, but I can't imagine that it's a bad sign.
- Corporations are not people. One more time: corporations are not people. Citizens United is the worst court ruling of the decade. Corporations are NOT people!
- Political parties bother me. The world doesn't dichotomize into two camps where all of the people in Camp D feel the same way about all issues and all the people in Camp R feel the exact opposite about all issues. Partisanship and party loyalty makes actual progress in the direction desired by the sovereign (i.e., the people) impossible. On the other hand, without parties, the next issue would be even worse.
- Elections are meaningless. People vote for a party, on the basis of months of fantastically-expensive mud-slinging televised lies. Is there a way to manage campaigns such that a relative unknown can still run for national office and also such that the person with the most expensive, most slanderous campaign doesn't win? I don't know. Is there a way to get candidates to reveal their true beliefs on issues instead of bickering about who slept with who? I really hope so.
- Legislation should be simple. We should invent a time machine, go back to find the first person who thought of adding an unrelated rider to a critical budget bill, and shoot him in the face. I've read through a few congressional bills in the last few weeks (for personal entertainment), and they're behemoths. If I can't get through it, then how is a senator who was elected on a platform of being anti-intellectual and has to be on the campaign trail 23 hours a day supposed to read it?
- Corporations are bloody not people!
I don't think I can say anything here that won't embarrass me in front of my much more knowledgable friends, but suffice to say that this is an issue that affects the whole world. In my magical pretend perfect world, it would be addressed by the whole world. Here's a real wingnut idea on this, though: require 100% carbon offset for all personally-owned vehicles. Cars are annoying anyway.
This one's trickier. On the one hand, I do agree with the conservatives on some points. A deficit isn't really that good of a thing. Yes, government certainly should run a deficit during a recession to compensate for the fact that markets are not people, and just because the market clears doesn't ensure anything about the suffering of individuals. But I also think that the way our economy works right now is we have a lot of debt (which isn't money) acting like money everywhere. At the federal level, at the state level, and (in much larger quantities) in the private sector. If the financial sector is making a profit, that's a good sign that your economy is in trouble. If the financial sector is making more profits than the rest of the economy, then your economy is just plain broken. The only job of a financial professional is to take things that aren't money and aren't economically productive and turn them into money for people who already have money. As a side effect, they sometimes do good things. Sometimes. After that rambling prelude:
- Consolidate duplicate state and federal agencies. I couldn't care less about states' rights, to tell you the truth. I've heard plenty of arguments for it, but our confederacy of states is just plain weird.
- Establish a single-payer healthcare system. The goal of a corporation (like, say, your insurance company) is to make money. The goal of a healthcare system is to produce healthy people. These goals are fundamentally at odds with each other. Yes, blah blah competition blah blah expensive services. I don't care about those things. Your insurance company is out to make money. The way for it to do that is to charge as much as the market will bear and provide as little as the market will bear. Health doesn't work that way.
- Maintain a simple, minimal social safety net. I don't believe that we as a people should be left to founder when we falter the way that Ayn would. But I also acknowledge that there are people who abuse our current welfare system, and that shouldn't be possible. We should develop some kind of technology that's good at aggregating information and determining aberrant patterns. And any safety net should, of course, encourage people to work. Which should be easier given the next point.
- Affirm and maintain public infrastructure. I'm not advocating public ownership of all means of production, but the infrastructure that they run on? The roads, the fiber lines, the sewers? Those should be public, and should be cared for the way we care for our investment bankers.
- Fair, simple taxes. Capital gains should be taxed the same as income, and income taxes should rise roughly logarithmically with income, maxing out somewhere around 50%. Estate taxes should match or exceed income taxes. One national sales tax. No state or local taxes.
- People complain a lot about "income redistribution". Surprisingly, a lot of these people are normal people. I don't know why they do so, but they should look at history a bit. The income gap in this country is stunning1. And I'm not part of the solution. I get paid an ungodly amount of money to sit on my ass and press buttons all day. Then I give most of it back for a medium-small apartment in an only okay neighborhood. But, still. At what point did we as a society decide that we should give all of our money to the people who need it least? Was anybody whose last name wasn't Reagan involved in this decision?
- Reduce our prison population. With the legalization of personal drugs and the improvements to education and employment in my magical mystery universe, this shouldn't be too hard. But it's worth mentioning that we spent $68 billion on prisons in 2006 2 and jailed 2.259 million people 3. That's only $30,101 a year per prisoner. Of course, the median income per household member in this country in 2006 was only $26,036 4. So you're worth $4,000 more to the country if you've been convicted of a crime and are doing nothing productive. That's a good use of our human capital!
- Roll back the defense budget to what it was before World War II (adjusted for inflation, of course). The defense budget in 2009 was $661 billion. The defense budget in 1940 (during a war, mind you) was $1.6 billion5. Adjusting for inflation (with CPI as my index), that's $25.4 billion. That's a 26 times increase so we could lose several wars and fight insurgents armed with $50 IEDs in countries that we are bloody occupying. They're going to make a movie about this period in American history in 100 years, and I don't think we're going to be the plucky heroes.
- Immediately withdraw US combat troops from all foreign wars. Democracy and liberalism can't be forced on a society; it only makes sense to give sovereignty to the citizenry if they want it. Don't get me wrong, I think that a democratic socialist republic is probably the ideal form of government for me (and, make no mistake, our government is and has been socialist in many of its dealings for a long time), but it's not my place to tell others how to live
- Withdraw the majority of our foreign military aid. We gave Israel, one of the stronger nations in the world, $2.5 billion of military aid in 20096. Not only are we increasing the violence in the world (particularly, the weaponry in the hands of a fairly radical effective-theocracy), but we're doing it by giving away money during a recession. Madness!
- Speaking of Israel, I am always amused (and saddend) by our irrational support of that country. Any other nuclear-armed theocracy that's occupying a foreign country (well, any one except ourselves) would probably have already been targeted as a member of an axis of evil. Israel gets bonus cookies, for some reason. I understand that Palestine hasn't exactly been a picture child, either, but I think it's time for us to ask them to grow up or stop giving them both cookies. By which I mean U.N. sanctions should be sought. Or we could stop exporting Mrs. Fields. Either way.
So, that's a list of a few of my crazy political leanings. Feel free to comment below, or not, as you wish. If you read this far, congratulations, you have too much time on your hands. Maybe I'll actually get around to that git post next week. And remember: corporations are not people!