Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Obama

It's funny how much hype leads up to the State of the Union, then how much discussion shortly follows, then how little we'll remember it in a month. It's not known for rousing oratory, or startling surprises. It's so routine that there's a countless variety of drinking games one can play while watching.

We need to revive the economy. "We do big things." That's a good summary of the speech. We do big things and put them down. We do big things and put them down.

Obama started with the need to improve education. Which I completely agree with. At all levels, our country's education is not competitive. And any quality education costs money, whether it's a private middle school, or a top-flight grad school. So in other words, it's not necessarily the best and brightest students who enjoy the benefits of the best education, its the most affluent ones.

Then Obama loses me, when he starts talking about China building solar energy facilities, and how we need to catch up. Is that why China's economy is growing, and ours isn't? Because of solar technology? I don't think so.

While I love the idea of rebuilding our educational system, emphasizing math and science (and basic writing, just read the comments on any YouTube video), and investing in new technologies, why does it always have to be "clean energy?" Is that the ultimate goal of technology? The pinnacle of mankind's achievements? Solar panels?

I think renewable and sustainable energy is a nice idea, but why don't we invest in education and technology, then let the next generation of smart people tell us what the new big thing is going to be. I can't imagine that in a history book 50 years from now, there'll be a sentence that reads "America's economy was saved by wind turbines."

And here's a hint, Liberals: If you want to sell the country on "clean energy," call it something else. CHEAP ENERGY. That gets the consumer excited. It's amazing how environmentally conscientious people will become when it affects the green in their wallets.

Getting back to education, Obama made some excellent points about how non-affordable it is. And Government can help that. I'd rather the Government give out grants (not loans) so students can go to the school of their choice (not just go to a college, but go to the college they choose), regardless of their economic status. There's responsibility and accountability in a program like that. If grades aren't up to snuff, then goodbye. I'd rather give Government money out in that fashion than via standardized entitlement checks.

But there's also a social and cultural problem undermining the quality of our education. College is for partying and passing. "C's get degrees." The people who have the opportunity to go to school take it for granted. Because there are no apparent consequences for failure. They've been brought up in a spoon-fed, coddled, everything-will-be-alright society. And this attitude needs to change. There's not much Government or Politicians can do about it. It's something that individuals need to do on their own. And I think a lot of people my age (mid-20's) are realizing that life is harder than school.

Most of this speech was recycled from previous remarks. Obama thinks that it's 1933 and that the country can be saved by The New Deal. He calls it "investing in infrastructure." But it can also be called "spending on roads."

While our highways and bridges are in dire need of repair, they should be fixed because they're broken, not because the economy is broken. All these projects don't do much to add jobs, and do little to help the economy. They help construction workers, and the contractors that employ them. That's about it.

Obama promised to "pick projects based on what's best for the economy, not politicians." Which is a very smooth, slick thing to say. What does "best for the economy" mean, though? Those construction workers expanding Route 128 might have one idea of what's best for the economy, and I might have another.

Politicians, even if acting under completely noble ideals, cannot "pick" what's best for an economy. The economy has to pick what's best for itself. It's called the free market. The idea of Politicians selecting who gets what, even with the best of intentions, curdles my blood.

Obama is against the tax-cuts given to the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Well, I'd rather that they pay taxes as opposed to me. But ultimately, I'd rather that neither of us have to pay much at all. Because when that wealthy person has more pocket money, they might invest in promoting a concert at Gillette Stadium, and I might get 10 hours of security work because of that. Or at the very least, they might buy a ticket to an existing concert, and part of that money eventually finds its way to me.

One thing's for sure, I trust that rich person to do something economically beneficial with that money more than I'd trust the Government.

Then there's healthcare. What Obama said about that, ironically, made me sick. "Let's fix what needs fixing and let's move forward." That's unimaginably arrogant and dismissive. There's a reason why Nancy Pelosi isn't sitting behind his left shoulder anymore. Many in this country rallied against Obama's healthcare reform. But I guess we should just move on. What's done is done. After all, it's not as if our Constitution allows for the repeal of undesirable laws.

Obama has seemed to respond to the voices calling for a reduction in government spending. But he and the Liberals will resist every cut. And Politicians from both sides will protect pet projects from their home states. They'll lobby for reduced military spending, except when it affects the Air Force base within their borders.

"I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without."

That phrase is an exquisite example of beautifully crafted rhetoric. Persuasion by Agreement. Obama has millions of voices screaming at him to cut the budget. So he agrees with them. But adds the caveat of "whatever we can honestly afford to do without." He wisely omits that it will be he and his Administration that decides what "we" can afford to cut.

It should be against the law for politicians to use the word "honestly."

And I loved his analogy to lightening an airplane by removing one of its engines. Well if the thing is too heavy to sustain flight, what's the point of having 4 engines or 0 engines? Maybe it needs a complete overhaul. Maybe it needs more things removed than "we can honestly afford to do without." Maybe we need a new plane.

We certainly need a new pilot.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's Happening After What Happened in Arizona

99.99% of the reaction to the events in Arizona have been understandable, dignified, and entirely appropriate. Politicians have put politics aside. And for the most part, most Americans have been united in shock, as opposed to divided in contention.

When psychos decide to kill people, we clamor for explanations. We're disturbed by the notion that someone can wake up, and decide to end the lives of others, almost at random. 6 people, who were simply at a minor political function, no longer exist. All because some guy named Jared Loughner made a decision. It's unsettling.

We all look for a cause to explain these things. If there is a cause, some sort of underlying reason, or maybe outside influence, then the world remains a sensible and logical place. Cause and effect, right? It even feels a bit safer, as we can convince ourselves that psychos like Loughner can't affect our destinies, not without some separate cause, at least.

After Columbine, for instance, the Right blamed Marilyn Manson, the Left blamed the NRA, and nobody blamed the sentient, self-aware human beings that executed their classmates. They even memorialized the killers alongside their victims! Could you imagine an eternal flame dedicated to Lee Harvey Oswald, sitting alongside the one to JFK?

Now as we examine the shootings in Arizona, we're asking who or what is to blame. And it baffles me that the unanimous choice isn't Jared "I have three names now" Lee Loughner. He bought the gun and ammunition. He concocted the scheme. He even wrote a farewell on his MySpace page. He pulled the trigger. He knew what he was doing and he did it.

He wasn't in a fit of uncontrollable rage, it wasn't spur of the moment. He was even able to get off with a warning after running a red light on his way to the assassination, so he couldn't have been an out of control madman. It seems like Loughner is the cause here. But some people out there believe he and his actions are merely an effect.

The gun control people have begun to chirp, for example.

Which is ironic, since Giffords has been a supporter of gun rights, and owns a Glock handgun (or at least did in 2008, Source).

Guns don't have free will. Human beings do. Guns kill people, but they can't murder. Idealist anti-gun nuts can fantasize about a world without guns, which means that Loughner wouldn't have been able to kill so many, if anyone at all. It also means a world in which everyone who has ever used a gun in self-defense against a physically stronger attacker, would be victims.

Then there's the more abstract cause behind the murders. Can a political atmosphere incite someone to commit murder? According to some, it has.

I can't confirm this, but the word of the day for January 8 on the New York Times desk calendar must have been "vitriolic." I've heard that word more in the last week than I had in the last two decades.

As a writer, I must concede an affinity for that word. It conveys a sense of acidity. It sounds like it means. Even if you've never heard it, you can tell it's not something good.

"The vitriolic political atmosphere" is being held partially responsible for Loughner's actions. You see, Giffords is a Democrat. She fought and won a close election against a Tea Party candidate. And here's a list of all the ties that we've learned Loughner had with the Tea Party:








That's what pisses me off about the insinuation (and occasional accusation) against the Tea Party in this assassination attempt. This isn't a Tea Party person committing a heinous act. This is a completely random, essentially unaffiliated psycho. This guy's rhetoric can't be described as Liberal or Conservative. It's not Moderate either. If nonsensical gibberish had a political party, Loughner would be their candidate for Senate.

He believes 9/11 was a conspiracy, that the world will end in 2012, and that Christianity was conceived in order to help politicians. He didn't vote in the 2010 midterm elections. Most Tea Party people, and Conservatives in general believe 9/11 has been genuinely portrayed, that the world won't end next year, and most are Christians. The same can be said of most Liberals.

He'd say things like "What is government if words have no meaning?" not "Cap and Trade is Crap and Tax." So it's beyond moronic to blame "vitriolic political atmosphere" for what this guy has done. And certainly the finger pointing against the Right is beyond stupid, as this guy wasn't even Conservative.

I don't think the gun control people, or the vitriol control people are trying to take advantage of this incident. They honestly believe that if handguns were harder to get, then psychos like Loughner would get a job at the cement factory and live productive, nonviolent lives. They honestly believe that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin control people, and make them do horrible, unspeakable things.

This guy refused to be a participant of a society, where there are multiple people with different views, cooperating yet competing together. But instead of turning into an introverted hermit, he attempted to inflict his twisted ideas on the rest of us. He didn't believe we had the right to disagree with him. He didn't believe we had the right to have a society without him. He didn't believe that other people have the right to live.

And some Conservatives are pulling the same accusative crap, calling Loughner a "left-wing political radical." And if an Hispanic person had shot a Republican politician in Arizona, you can bet your sweet bippy that there'd be Right Wing voices screaming about the need for immigration reform, and how the atmosphere around SB 1070 fueled the violence.

I'll end with a counter argument/question to all these causality theories about Loughner and the Tea Party. If this "vitriolic atmosphere" is partially responsible for this murder, why is this the one incident? This is such a rare act. Some news outlets have tried to portray this as part of a string of violent acts, alluding to threats against politicians, and vandalizing of offices.

But murder is on another level. And if an "atmosphere" is to blame for one assassination attempt, doesn't it follow that there'd be more than one? Historians often blame the social and economic atmosphere of Weimar Germany for the rise of Hitler. But Hitler wasn't the only Nazi. An entire generation of Germans were angry and psychotic.

Nobody blames political atmosphere for John Hinckley or Lee Harvey Oswald. Even John Wilkes Booth, who had a distinct and clear political vendetta against Lincoln, gets the blame for the assassination, not the "vitriolic political atmosphere" surrounding the Civil War.

Hopefully, Loughner's will remain a singular event. Which is one positive to take from this thing, that we live in a country and a time where political violence is exceedingly rare and almost universally abhorred. Despite the abundance of vitriol.