Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

It is what it is…

November 3rd, 2010 1 comment

Election night in America has come and gone and while all the results are not yet in, the picture is pretty obvious.  The GOP handily captured the House while the Dems barely kept the Senate.

I am not angry, frustrated, disappointed or surprised.  It is what it is.  While my politics generally lean towards the progressive side of things on most issues, I have been just as frustrated with congress as many of my conservative friends have been.  I even support many tea-party back ideals: more personal freedom, less involvement in international conflicts, balanced budgets, term limits, etc.  Of course there are still many ideals I hold that would make a tea-partier cringe: strict oversight of corporations, universal healthcare, social welfare programs, international aid, etc.

The peaceful transition of government through national elections is one aspect of American life that I am deeply proud of.  That is why I am not angry about the results.  The American people have spoken, and our government will change because of it.

What worries me is that if were gridlocked with a single party in control, then what is going to happen with a split congress?  I certainly hope that it forces us to re-engage in meaningful political discourse and compromise.  However, I fear it is just as likely to launch us into increased (and more bitter) partisan wrangling, hyperbole and demonization of "the other guys."  Only time will tell which direction we go as a nation.

It has been interesting to go through this polarized political season while also preparing to move to Swaziland.  You see, in Swaziland political parties are outlawed.  The idea is that if people were allowed to organize into political parties then they would refuse to work with people in competing parties.  5 years ago I would have called that position completely irrational.  Our history has shown that in most cases people of competing political ideologies can co-exist, work together, and even be friends.  (In my own life I have close personal friends that are Republicans, Democrats, socialists, libertarians, neo-cons, anarchists, communists and even monarchists and my life is better because of it).  However, I think that as a nation we have regressed in the last two years when it comes to political discourse; it is harder and harder for people to be understood on their own terms without their political affiliation short-circuiting things to assumptions and hyperbole.  I am not going to point fingers, but it is disappointing.

In many ways I am really looking forward to moving to a country where political parties don’t officially exist, where there is no 24-hour news cycle, and where pundits aren’t making a living mixing politics / entertainment / ratings / stereotypes / etc.  Of course every system has its issue, but it might be refreshing to deal with a King for a while instead of this crap we have endured this election cycle.

It is what it is…

America on a collision course

September 20th, 2009 5 comments

Who would ever have guessed that we would be looking back at the presidential campaign of 2008 as a time of relative tranquillity and good fellowship?

Bob Greene made the above observation in his article Commentary: America on a collision course on  Greene examines and laments the current political tension that is miring our country.  It is an article well worth reading.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , ,

Edward “Teddy” Kennedy Quotes

August 26th, 2009 No comments
"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die." - Teddy Kennedy

"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die." - Teddy Kennedy

Last night, on August 25, 2009, the US Senate lost one of its most famous/notorious members.  Edward “Teddy” Kennedy was serving his ninth term when he passed away after a fight with brain cancer.  At the time he was the second most senior member of the Senate and was the third longest serving senator ever.  After his older brothers John and Robert were assassinated,Ted made a name for himself as one of the most polarizing figures in congress.  He was always unapologetic for his strong liberal views and was consistent in his fight for civil rights for all people.  Love him or hate him, he was a figure to be reckoned with.  Here are a few quotes from Senator Ted Kennedy:

The Constitution does not just protect those whose views we share; it also protects those with whose views we disagree.

It’s better to send in the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps.

Frankly, I don’t mind not being President. I just mind that someone else is.

America will not be America until we free ourselves of discrimination and bigotry

War should be a last resort, not the first response.

It is possible to love America while concluding that it is not now wise to go to war, … The standard that should guide us is especially clear when lives are on the line.

Surely, we can have effective relationships with other nations without adopting a chip-on-the-shoulder foreign policy, a my-way-or-the-highway policy that makes all our goals in the world more difficult to achieve.

The nation lost a courageous woman and a true American hero. A half century ago, Rosa Parks stood up not only for herself, but for generations upon generations of Americans.

Our struggle is not with some monarch named George who inherited the crown. Although it often seems that way.

When we rebuild the land ravaged by the winds and the floods, we must rebuild it to be a more just and fair land.

Examining the Rhetoric Against Universal Health Care

August 8th, 2009 5 comments

One of the top stories in the news this week has been the increased tension surrounding universal health care. (See for instance Health debate turns hostile at meetings.)  The plan being discussed in congress certainly has its problems, but unfortunately we have reached the point where meaningful discussion has transitioned into hyperbolic arguing with emphasis on scare tactics, skewed statistics and atypical anecdotal stories — and that is from both sides.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

A prime example of this can be found in a statement by Sarah Palin which she posted on her facebook page.  Here is an exerpt:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion.

Discussion of health care does involve life and death decisions.  It also involves money.  In our current system money, not human rights and human dignity is the primary consideration.  It takes money to have health care.  The insurance companies are out to make money.  They make more money by charging people more and paying less.

Lets look at some of the charges against a universal plan, and see how they apply to the current system

  • Health care will be rationed – People are worried about the government telling them what procedures they can get and where they can get it.  Guess what… that already happens.  Insurance companies dictate which doctors you can go to and which procedures are covered.  Plus, those without health insurance can’t get the procedures at all, so we are rationing for rich.  We may disagree whether health care is a right or a privileged, but I am not comfortable with the deciding factor on who lives and dies being wealthy.  Palin argues the elderly, sick and disabled will be the ones most affected.  The irony is that these groups are the ones who already have the hardest time getting coverage.  Even with a minor pre-existing condition, getting coverage  is very difficult if it is not employer provided.  Again, we see rationing already exists, but the only people who get it are the skilled.
  • There will be a bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor – Guess what… there already is.  If you look at the chart designed by the GOP in order to scare people into thinking things are more complicated than they are, you will realize most of the boxes and lines already exist.  We already have government involvement in health care.  Universal health care would not add another layer, it would simply change who you are dealing with.  As it is, the insurance companies stand between you and your doctor and they are motivated to not provide you with service because doing so would cost additional money.
  • health-care-chart

  • America has the best health care in the world and that will be lost – This one is all about definitions.  What is undisputed is that America has the most expensive health care.  We pay on average more than double the average of every other developed nation in the world.  However, even after spending that much we still are 17th in the world in terms of life expectancy.  According to the World Health Organization, we are far from having the best system:

The U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries according to its performance, the report finds. The United Kingdom, which spends just six percent of GDP on health services, ranks 18 th . Several small countries – San Marino, Andorra, Malta and Singapore are rated close behind second- placed Italy.

I think there is plenty of room for discussion around this topic, but we first must be honest with the system we have.  America is not plotting new ground here, instead we are following every other developed nation in the world who has chosen to go this path.

Arguing on the Internet

June 24th, 2009 No comments

Trust me… I have no problem arguing.  Just ask my wife, my parents, or any of my friends.  I am pensive by nature and tend to think through things, so I am usually ready to defend my views.

That being said, I have learned repeatedly the futility of arguing on the internet.  I have been active in a number of forums and debated issues on facebook and blogs.  I find very rarely does it turn out well.  It seems virtual arguments tend to escalate quicker and people tend to assume the worst.  Electronic posts lack the non-verbals necessary to gauge things like sarcasm vs. sincerity or attacks vs. suggestions.  When you don’t have a larger context it is easy to stereotype and pigeon-hole.

I write this because I find myself sticking to my commitment to blog regularly (I have already posted more in the last week than I have on my various blogs over 5 years).  I am sure I will post some controversial things and I am up for discussion and encourage feedback and suggestions. However, I refuse to get into arguments over what I post.  I see blogging as a way for me to express my thoughts (and work through them) and not as an avenue for convincing others to join whatever philosophical camp I happen to be representing.

I hope to have great conversations in the coming months, but please don’t be disappointed if I refuse to respond to some comments.  It is not that I find the points invalid, or don’t appreciate a person’s thoughts.  It is just that I don’t think it is helpful for anyone to argue over the internet.  Too many words have been spilled and no many emotions raised over topics that in the end never amounted to anything.

Gun Control, The Constitution, and Interpretive Communities

June 19th, 2009 No comments

*This is a repost of a prior facebook note.

I have been having a conversation with a few guys about gun control laws in the US. This has moved into a discussion of the proper reading of the Constitution. Because my current studies involve understanding the role of Interpretive Communities in finding the meaning of authoritative documents, that has come into the conversation as well. Below are some excerpts:

I think a discussion of gun control must include a discussion of the constitution. Let me be clear from the start – I believe the constitution is THE authoritative document concerning the rule and government of the United States. If something is truly unconstitutional, it should be squashed. I will resoundingly agree with those who say that “this document defines the USA”

Now comes the rub. Despite our agreement on the constitution’s authority, we all read the document differently. In fact, there isn’t a single correct way to read the constitution by which all other readings and readers must be held accountable. A perfect example of this is our Supreme Court, which has the authority (and I will quickly admit the constitutional source of this can certainly be debated) to interpret the Constitution in judicial cases. In the most important constitutional cases, the justices are often split. What does this teach us? Even the final authorities on constitution interpret it differently.

Let me a share a bit about myself. I am a pastor and have recently completed an MA in Biblical Studies. These discussions concerning the meaning and authority of documents are very near and dear to me. I spend most of my days working with documents many find to be authoritative, yet find different interpretations. Recently, I have begun a study on how Interpretive Communities affected the formation of scripture and consequently how that affects our reading of it. I am relying heavily on a literary theorist named Stanley Fish. It is at this point that our conversation must move from the political to the philosophical (namely the post-modern). Fish argues “meaning” and “truth” can only be grasped by the reader. He certainly affirms the importance of “authorial intent” but claims we will never be able to fully grasp that because we will always read a text through our own experience. Now critics often attack Fish for being too subjective – they say he is throwing out absolute truth by saying truth means different things based on the reader. He argues that a text cannot “mean anything” but instead must be found within certain parameters. Sometimes those parameters are tight, other times loose. In fact, he is quick to affirm those parameters change over time. For Fish (and for me as well), the source of those parameters, and thus the source of the constraints on possible meanings, are “Interpretive Communities.” Basically he argues we are a part of a shared community with shared experiences and worldviews. Being a part of those communities affects how we can read documents and find meaning. In fact, it is impossible to understand a text apart from our current context, our experiences and the Interpretive Communities to which we belong.

Here is a cheesy example. If I was in Kindergarten and we were reading a book that said, “we dropped the little boy on an island” because of the context and community I was a part of, the meaning would certainly be that a child was placed on some land surrounded by water. However, after I became a part of a community that understands WWII and the context of the nuclear age, I know the meaning of that could now be related to the dropping of an atomic bomb. Before my context / community changed, I could not possibly understand the other meaning – even if it was clearly talking about Hiroshima.

In discussion of the constitution, we see this happen when one court upholds one reading of the constitution, but later courts reject that view. What has happened? The interpretive community has changed.

I say that that, to say this. While I support the authority of the constitution, I do not necessarily agree with others reading of it. The second amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Grammatically (forget interpretively) this is a difficult sentence to understand. First, we could read this as one subject or as two. We can read this as a protection for both militias and the right to bear arms, or we can read it as simply a long sentence about protecting the militia wherein the right to bear arms is a part. Based on the syntax, this later definition makes more sense. After all, the second clause (being necessary…) clearly modifies the first. It would be fair to assume the third clause concerning the right of the people to keep and bear arms is simply describing the nature of a well regulated militia as well.

However, lets take the most popular reading and assume these are two rights being addressed together. Now we must ask what does it mean to have the right to bear arms? It does not say, “right to bear any arms,” it simply grants the right. So then if you own a .22 pistol, you are bearing an arm. As long as we allow some arms to be owned and do not flatly outlaw all arms, then one could argue the right is still being supplied. (By the way, I am not making this argument, just listing it). Now even if we reject this last argument and contend this amendment is protecting all arms, we must deal with the issue of infringement. It would be great to take a literalist argument and say NO LAW shall infringe in ANY WAY. But lets face it, that is not practical. To argue this takes us to absurd places. We find ourselves arguing for private citizens owning nuclear weapons and toddlers being able to carry concealed weapons.

AssaultRiflesThe fact of the matter is even a vast majority of gun owners support some limitations on types and contexts of arm bearing. Even those that argue the purpose of the second amendment was to ensure the people could be as well armed as the military do not want private ownership of nuclear weapons. If you make this absolute literalist argument and demand absolutely no infringement you must then argue it is perfectly acceptable for US citizen to be given a nuclear weapon by Iran. Lets try to stay away from the absurd. We must acknowledge a line must be drawn somewhere – our real question is where. Do we allow howitzers but outlaw a-bombs? Do we allow rocket launchers but outlaw howitzers? Do we outlaw rocket launchers but allow fully automatic machine guns? Do we outlaw fully automatic machine guns, but allow semi-automatic rifles? The list goes on. It is not a question of whether or not we limit the right to bear arms, but a question of where. Historically the authoritative readings of the constitution have allowed this line to be drawn and it requires a dance between the judicial branch and the legislative branch to find that spot.

My friend made the following point concerning the intent of the second ammendment:

The second amendment allows citizens to have whatever armament the military has.

I think this is a great point, but unfortunately it is not backed by the constitution. Even if we could prove this was the intent of the framers (which is impossible to do) that does not make it the correct reading. You see, our constitution does not instruct us on how to read it. It does not state that the most correct reading is one that aligns itself with how the founding fathers viewed the world. I find most “constitutionalists” are not only arguing for the authority of the document, but also for a particular reading – in this case one that attempts to mimic the founding fathers. I don’t think this is a wrong reading, but there is no evidence this is the only correct reading. A person can be faithful to the letter of the law, without having to adopt the worldview of 18th century politicians. If our constitution included a section on how we are to interpret the document, then I would certainly honor that. However, this is an area that the constitution is silent on. One could assume the founders recognized that each generation would have to interpret it for that generation.

I want to be clear… I don’t think a reading that attempts to mimic the views of the founding fathers is wrong. However, I also don’t think that a person who reads the constitution faithfully through their own worldview and is following it the letter of the written law, is treading on our founding document (as people like Sean Hannity might argue). I firmly believe you can be faithful to the constitution without having to read it through the framework of the original authors. After all, any attempt to completely formulate authorial intent is subjective and incomplete at best.

To be honest with you, I have not formulated my own views on gun control and the second amendment. I am still trying to work through a proper approach to the issue. In discussions like these I think it is always best to find some common ground so we can avoid the extremes and discuss the implications of the particulars. For gun control discussion I think that means admitting there are legitimate reasons to own a wide variety of weapons (even those currently banned), most gun owners are responsible law-abiding citizens, criminals will still break the law, and that in all practicality, there must be some laws limiting the right to bear arms – even if we are only talking about nuclear weapons and toddlers with uzis.

Once those parameters are set, we can have a helpful conversation about where that line should be drawn without risking it descending into the absurd. We may not agree, but hopefully we can learn and genuinely discuss the positive and negative consequences of each law. I want to hear how a law is going to affect law abiding citizens as much as I want to hear the potential benefits. In order for that to happen, we have to be civil otherwise we simply pigeonhole each other and their arguments.