Sunday, November 13, 2011

The View From Across The Pond

...or The Rich Versus The Rest.

Politics is, at some level, about tribalism. To what degree varies from one individual to the next but, at some level, party politics is about cheering on our side and condemning theirs. Henri Tajfel proved that the very act of dividing people into groups, or them dividing themselves, creates prejudice against the outgroup and for the ingroup and that happens even when the differences are minimal, trivial or outright random. This is called Social Identity Theory and we can train ourselves to look past it but we cannot prevent it happening in the first place. So, at some level, party politics is about tribalism, us versus them.

Republicans know this. Their entire political machine is set up to exploit it. It's easier to exploit SIT with conservative politics because, while Democratic politics often tries to encourage us to look past that us against them instinct, Republican politics doesn't bother. Republican politics is entirely about "us" (the good, small-town, heartland, conservative America) against "them" (the pointy-headed elites on the coasts who think too much). Divide and conquer. Not the newest tactic but a time-tested and reliable one. What makes them Republican machine different is that they play this game of us against them for the benefit of another them: The "malefactors of great wealth", the monied elite, the Powers that Be by whatever name you choose to call them.

The PtB have a dream, you see. They've had the same dream for a long time, to create a society where the people are so desperate that they'll work for pennies, where workers can be hired and fired at will for any reason they see fit and where their employers owe nothing to the employed. It's not a complicated dream. It's the same "me first, last and only" dream that the PtB have always had. That's why so many of them love the works of Ayn Rand, because she was engaged in mankind's oldest philosophical pursuit, finding a moral cover for naked greed. And that's why the Republicans have spent so long attacking the safeguards society has in place. Because as far as they are concerned, anything that stops you falling into poverty is something that both costs them tax money and prevents you being forced to work yourself to death for them. "I owe my soul to the company store". Since the fall of feudalism, politics can be mostly summed up as the rich versus the rest and, for the least thirty-odd years, the rich have been winning. For that time period, productivity has shot up while wages have stayed flat and the tax burden has been shifted from the rich to, well, you. Yes, I've heard the excuse that "the rich pay most of the taxes" but here's the thing, that would be true even under a flat tax. They have more money coming in so even a flat tax system will take more from the rich than from the rest. I have also heard that excuse that "47% pay no taxes" and I have to laugh at that, purely because the kind of mind that could hear something that absurd and not fact-check it will believe anything. And then I think a little further and realise that what is being promoted there is yet another call to tax the poor and I stop laughing.

America doesn't treat it's poor very well. Nor does my own UK and I could do a whole essay about that but it's besides the point here. America tends to still be stuck on the Victorian notion that the poor are poor not through bad luck or simply because capitalism is designed to have winners and losers but through some moral fault of theirs. You can see this notion underlying all the myths about the poor; that the poor are lazy, fat, drug-addled (all statistically untrue); that they don't deserve medical care. It's the same notion that underlies the arbitrary time limits on welfare too. Again, don't think I'm saying that the UK is immune to this stuff (we're just as bad but it takes a slightly different form here because we have a slightly different culture), I'm just talking about the US on this occasion. The US tends to be rather anti-poor. I suspect that's because, in the fifty-odd years of the Cold War, capitalism became a sort of national religion in the USA. You can see that in the use of "SOCIALISM!" as an otherising epithet. The very idea of anything contrary to capitalism (and specifically, to unrestrained capitalism) is taken as some sort of heresy, the word "SOCIALIST!" proclaimed in much the same way as "WITCH!" was a few centuries ago. And, naturally, the label of socialism has been expanded now to cover all left-wing economic thought. The same people who would whinge like banshees if you labelled them fascist (the furthest right position), think nothing of labelling anyone of the left a socialist. Except they'll now insist that fascism was on the left and much the same as socialism. And if you can't see how that works to the PtB's benefit, you're not paying attention.

Incidently, don't think I'm propounding some grand conspiracy here. I'm not saying that the PtB work in concert. I'm using the term as a kind of shorthand for those who are both rich and politically-active. It's not a conspiracy so much as it's the case that those who are both rich and politically-active tend to see the world in a similar way (although there are exceptions, Warren Buffet being one example) and tend to work toward similar goals. Nor am I a socialist except in the manner mentioned above where everyone on the left is a socialist. Personally, I'm for a system where most things are left to private industry but a few key sectors that society relies upon (utilities, mail, healthcare and maybe telecoms) are either socialised or have a state-run competitor to provide a bottom-floor of service for price. In the US, you might call that Democratic Socialism. In my old PoliSci class, it was called a "mixed" economy. So, that's where I stand.

The last few years haven't been easy on anyone. They've been frustrating for those who think as I do. We've seen banks fall and while the solution was obvious (nationalise the damn things!), it was never mentioned by those in power. We've seen unemployment skyrocket and a too-small stimulus that helped some but not enough. And we've seen the GOP all but abandon any claim to not being the political arm of the PtB. Obama has been something of a disappointment. While always better than the Paleolithic/Pathetic ticket he ran against and always better than whichever maniac will end up representing the GOP this time (which will probably be Romney), he hasn't been the kind of transformative president everyone was hoping for. In fairness, he's also had to contend with unprecedented vitriol and obstructionism from the GOP. Obama is clearly going to be re-elected, barring massive fraud from the GOP and that too was predictable. One thing I never saw coming was the "Occupy" movement. Even now, I'm not sure if it will stick around or, really, what it wants. I understand that they're protesting economic injustice but not what they propose to rectify that, if they propose anything. Maybe, at 35, I'm too old to understand it.

Still, things are always worse on Main Street. Unemployment is high. Shops aren't selling much because no-one has money to buy anything. The GOP's control of the airwaves has turned piddle-down economics and "free markets uber alles" into common wisdom. They've waged all-out war against Keynesianism, re-written history to claim that it doesn't work. And yet, it does work. Not always and not perfectly but it does generally work. Obama's stimulus was only room-temp Keynesianism. Too large a portion of tax cuts for it to really qualify. His Jobs Bill was a good step in the right direction but that should have been proposed back when it was likely to pass but then, Obama wouldn't have been able to campaign for his second term on it (I like Obama but he is still a politician). And the GOP still push their master's agenda: Lower wages, no unions, no benefits, no entitlements. On Main Street, jobs are the most pressing issue. Without jobs, people can't buy and without people buying, businesses can't sell. Jobs are the main issue. But you'd never know it listening to Republicans. According to Republicans, the main issues are abortion, sharia and something called a "war on wealth". That last one is possibly the most disingenuous phrase concocted since "the death tax". Very few people actually resent people being rich. What we resent is them becoming rich at our expense.

In a way, I pity Americans. Not just because you have another year of campigning to sit through (campaigns here last four-to-six weeks) but also because your public debate about economics is so limited. You are not allowed to suggest alternatives to capitalism or even major modifications to it or you're marked down as a "socialist", a kook, a heretic. And it's going to take a very long time to alter that, if you can alter it at all (which will require overturning that bloody Citizens United decision). I wish it was going to be easier but I doubt it will be. But two things Americans have in abundance are energy and ingenuity and really, that's all you need.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Backstop Theory

A lot of the time on here, I'm ranting about the excesses of the capitalist system. This may have led some people to believe certain things about my position on economic issues. In the interests of being hated for the right reasons, let me explain where I stand: I am not a Communist (in the Marxist sense). History has proven that full-blown Marxist Communism doesn't work. It looks nice on paper, it sounds very reasonable but, like a lot of reasonable ideas, it falls apart when you try and apply it to actual people. I'm not going to bother defining it further because it's failed and only complete idiots still think there is any great support for Communism. It can work for small groups, where the emotional tie between each individual prevents exploitation of the system but it doesn't work en masse. Nor am I a socialist. Now, before we go any further, we need to define what a socialist is. Contrary to the current view of the American right, socialism doesn't mean "anyone who opposes letting the poor starve in the streets". In the urge to label every single person or idea on the left as "socialist", the word has been broadened beyond use. No, actual socialism is where the people (usually through the mechanism of the state) controls all or most of the means of production and distribution. I'm not a socialist. The full-blown socialist system is both inefficient and creates a labyrinthine beurocracy.

However, I'm also not a great lover of capitalism, especially not in the "free markets uber alles" fashion currently en vogue in the USA. Capitalism is also often inefficient but, more importantly, the capitalist system inherently creates winners and losers. And while the winners are often admired far beyond any actual talents they have, the losers are too frequently despised. We call the losers "unemployed" or, if we're conservative and wish to blame them for their misfortune, "the jobless". Capitalism creates those losers. It has to, it needs the losers because their existance keeps wages down. I don't want to turn this into yet another rant about how our culture treats the unemployed but their existance is both a necessary part of and the inherent result of capitalism.
So, I find myself a nominal supporter of capitalism but only for the same reasons Sir Winston Churchill supported democracy, it's better than the other systems we've come up with.

When it works (and is properly regulated, which people like to forget), the inherent competition of capitalism works to keep prices low and standards high. However, there are a small group of sectors which pure capitalism does not and, indeed, cannot work for. These are the essential services: Water, gas, electricity, telecoms, retail banking, mail and healthcare. I call them "essential services" because living in the modern world requires using, or at least having the option to use, those services at all times. And that's why pure free-market capitalism cannot work for them. Because you cannot remove yourself from that market sector without, at least, massive inconvienience, the companies that supply those services are able to push up prices and slash standards with little to no repercussions. You can move between the various companies but you cannot easily remove yourself, you are a "captive market". These sectors do not work like others. If the price of, say, a Big Mac gets too high, you can go to Burger King (switch supplier) or you can skip lunch (remove yourself from the market altogether) but with the essential services, you do not (realistically) have the second option. Removing yourself from those market sectors is so inconvienient or, in some cases, dangerous, that you are effectively obliged to deal with them.

Since you are effectively obliged to deal with those market sectors, I thought up what I refer to as the "Backstop Theory". The idea is that, in those sectors, the state should set up and operate it's own business. A bare bones supplier from which you can buy your essential services from at the lowest possible cost. That provides a backstop, a bottom level of price for service that private companies must then compete with either by beating the price, providing a better service or both. Maybe I'm being naive but I always thought that was the essence of capitalism. I have heard various objections to this idea but most seem to amount to either ideaological objections such as the insistence that government can't do anything right (in which case, use the private competitors, what's the problem?); deranged conspiracy theories that claim the populace will be forced to use the government service in time (as an article of faith, this is unfalsifiable) and ranting about socialism (it's not socialism because the government-run services would still have private competitors).

In some of these sectors, the US and UK already have a backstop in action. In Britain, the NHS, Royal Mail and the retail banking services offered by the Post Office act as a backstop in their respective sectors. You can still use the private alternatives but, because the public companies provide a minimum of price for service, competitors must be notably better in some way to compete. In the USA, the Post Office provides the backstop mail service but, as far as I'm aware, none of the others. Healthcare would be one of the easiest to create a backstop by simply expanding Medicare to everyone (which would also make it a de facto universal healthcare system).

So that's my idea. It's not perfect and I'll be the first to admit that I have zero training in economics. The idea just comes from a lot of reading and thought on the subject.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another Study Telling Us What We Already Knew

A new study featured in the New York Times ( ) tells us exactly what we already knew about the Teabaggers: They are, and always have been, the conservative base. The Teabagger "phonomenon" was only ever a Koch-funded rebranding of the same coalition of groups that make up the GOP's base: Racists, borderline fascists, outright fascists, anti-government kooks, backyard anarchists/Libertarians (I'm aware that the two have differing meanings but the Teabagger's variety of Libertarianism is essentially just anarchism), Randroids, single issue anti-gay and anti-abortionists and theocrats, united by living in a completely manufactured reality supplied by Faux News and the talk radio barkers.

The Teabaggers will take offence at both the study and my description of them. They'll dismiss the study the same way Bill O'Lielly dismisses studies he dislikes: By repeating the main points in a sarcastic tone (which stupid people think is a rebuttal) and describing the conductors as far-left radicals or extremists. It's so predictable as to be laughable, a worldview immune to self-knowledge or self-examination, "pay no attention to the nasty man" for grown-ups.

But this is the reality the Teabaggers live in, one where the way things are morphs into The Way Things Ought To Be and the teachinjgs of Jesus are filtered through Ayn Rand. This is a world where the left were just as bad to Bush as the right are being to Obama; where fascism and socialism are pretty much the same thing and Glenn Beck is a prophet. Where Reagan shrank government and balanced the budget while Clinton did the opposite, where Bush was a liberal (yeah, I only just heard that too), Social Security adds to the debt and Obama is a far-left socialist.

Now, none of the above is actually true. In most cases, they're the exact opposite of truth. The fact, for those of us living in a reality where facts matter, are that the left were nowhere near as bad to Bush, that fascism is corporate control of a nation and directly opposite to socialism; Reagan both grew government, never submitted a balanced budget and exploded the debt while Clinton shrank the debt and submitted several balanced budgets; Bush was ultraright and Obama is a fairly wimpy moderate.

But the Teabaggers, who are now the majority of Republicans, have a seperate world manufactured just for them. It's a world which not only tells them the above non-facts but provides a source they can quote. They have think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation that pushes absurd reality-denials from the right fringe into the mainstream; they can turn on their TV and listen to Fox tell them, they can turn on their radio and hear the barkers repeating their preferred "truths" all day long. Often, they can listen to them from an increasingly conservative mainstream media (in fact, the flat denial of reality that insists the most conservative media in the free world is actually liberally biased was probably the forerunner to all of this). This is a world where facts are not decided by things like verifiability or accuracy but purely by whether they agree with what Republicans are saying. If something agrees with a Republican talking point, it is revealed truth, gospel and unquestionable. If something disagrees with a Republican talking point, it's a scandalous lie and everyone knows it to be a lie. It's a completely self-insulating world where the gate-keeper of truth is purely convienience, whether it accords with the talking points or not.

One cannot reason with these people. It is a mistake to try because you are approaching the discussion from two completely incompatible angles. You, being relatively liberal, are approaching from a position of using verifiable facts. They, being conservative, are approaching from a basis where talking points are automatically gospel truth because they are talking points. Anything which disagrees is, by definition, a lie and can be disregarded. You're not just speaking a different language; by questioning the talking points, you're speaking heresy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The BDFL Fixes The USA

For those who haven't read these previously, BDFL stands for Benevolent Dictator For Life, a position where I assume absolute power over the USA to correct the problem. It's an "if I ruled the world" flight of fancy. All dollar figures are in current dollars and shall be inflation-linked.


- 2nd Amendment reworded to remove the words "and bear"; define "arms" to include only single-shot or semi-automatic firearms; restrict the right to ex-cons from owning firearms; establish national minimum age and mandatory firearms safety testing and ban control of a firearm while intoxicated.

- Create a right to an education through high school.

- Reaffirm right to abortion, subject to lawful restriction in the second and third trimesters.

- Create a Court of Constitutional Review, a three-judge panel nominated by the American Bar Association and confirmed by the Senate, who shall rule on the constitutionality of each law before it goes for the president's signature.

- New Constitutional Amendment clarifying that corporations are NOT Constitutional "persons" and are NOT entitled to Constitutional protections. Corporations are not persons for the purposes of the Constitution. They are fictional constructs used for legal simplicity and convienience, nothing more.

- A complete and blanket ban on any and all businesses spending a single penny on any form of political activism, whether through campaign donations, PACs or political advertising. Any violations of this law may be punished by a fine of up to one full year's profits (worked out as an average of the previous decade's profits) for a first offence. A second offence will see the maximum fine doubled and a third or subsequent offence shall trigger "election tampering" charges against the board members who made the decision.

- Blanket ban on all for-profit lobbying. Lobbyists exist to bugger up the democratic process, that is their whole reason for being. If possible, I would prefer to get rid of for-profit lobbyists and keep the concerned-citizen kind but, if necessary, I am prepared to accept the loss of the concerned-citizen lobbyists as the expense of getting rid of the for-profit ones.

- Automatic voter registration upon reaching the age of majority. This is relatively easy to do due to the Social Security rolls. Convicts do not have the right to vote but the right to vote shall be automatically reinstated upon release.

- Votes for cloture in the Senate set at sixty. It shall be lowered to fifty-five two weeks after the first cloture vote and to fifty-one (not counting the VP) a month after the first cloture vote. This is intended to curtail the rampant abuse of the filibuster.

- Bidding on federal contracts shall be open only to companies paying American taxes and all bids shall be available for public viewing unless judged to be a risk to national or federal security (a decision which WILL have to be justified to a court). No-bid contracts may only be used by the military and then only in circumstances where open bidding would constitute a security risk.


- No Child Left Behind Act scrapped.

- Remove most formal tests (tests done by teachers for their own assessment still allowed).

- Impose national curriculum, setting general outlines and concepts which children in each age group should be familiar with. Individual schools and teachers can still decide how to teach them but have proven they cannot be trusted to come up with a curriculum.

- Teaching of "intelligent design" banned until it can come up with some peer-reviewed studies to assess.

- Sex education becomes mandatory from age twelve. The sexual health of future generations overrules the squickishness of parents. Such education shall obviously be taught in an age appropriate manner and shall include acknowledgement of homo and bi-sexuality, preferably making clear that both exist, deserve human dignity and will not cease to exist if someone disapproves.

- Teacher's will now be considered civil servants for purposes of working out pay and benefits (including pension options).

- Each school allocated funds for classroom expenses, removing that from the out-of-pocket teacher expenses.

- School libraries now funded through the newly created Department of Humanitarian Services.


- Commission created to study existing methods of providing universal healthcare around the world. 1 year for studying those methods, followed by six to nine months to create a model for universal healthcare in the USA. In theory, coming late to the party should be an advantage since you can study the methods other nations have tried, using the best parts and avoiding the worst until you come up with a special and uniquely American system. The USHS (for lack of a better name) shall focus on preventative health and shall provide healthcare to all citizens, regardless of age, race, class, employment status or anything else, funded through taxation. This includes abortion through the first trimester or when considered medeically necessary to preserve the life or health (including mental health) of the mother.

- Doctor's office and hospitals shall provide condoms free of charge to the public. This is intended to prevent and reduce STI rates.

- As the USHS is rolled out, it shall absorb both Medicare and Medicaid, leading to a cessation of both those programs.

- Having a prescription filled shall attract a small fee, initially set at ten dollars. This is not intended to cover the cost of drugs, it's intended to stop you from bothering your doctor with minor shit that just needs a couple of asprin or a roll of antacids.

- Legislation preventing the US government from negotiating drug prices repealed, legislation obliging the government to negotiate on drug prices substituted.

- As the health care and abortion services of Planned Parenthood will no longer be required due to the USHS, funding for them shall be removed.


- 20% reduction in military budget, targetted toward obsolete and/or unneeded weapons systems.

- Veteran's medical care rolled into USHS.

- Mental health added to veteran's care.

- New requirement that troops be given at least two years at home for each year in a combat area (may be waived in times of national invasion or rebellion).

- Ban on sending troops to war without full kit for each and every trooper (again, may be waived in cases of rebellion or national invasion).

- Remaining troops out of Iraq as soon as logistically possible, out of Afghanistan within the next eighteen months and out of Libya as soon as logistically possible without a Congressional authorisation.

- Minimum age of military active duty raised to eighteen. Recuits may enter training at seventeen but may not be deployed until eighteen. This may be waived in the event of national invasion or rebellion.


- New top tax rate added of 50% on household incomes above $1 million annually.

- Capital gains taxed as income with the exception of one (1) house, designated as the primary residence. If the household only owns one house, that shall be designated as the primary automatically. If more than one is owned, the designation may not be moved more often than once in every five year span.

- Nationwide network of JobCentres created. New legislation that every job for which application is open to the general public (i.e. headhunting not included) shall be notified to the JobCentre which shall display such jobs in each Centre and on their website. Each Centre shall also have phones and computers available (free of charge) for the purpose of applying for jobs and will even mail in applications upon a jobseeker's request. Short courses shall also be provided in such job-seeking skills as CV/resume writing, interview technique, basic computer literacy and so on. Advice shall be available for those interested in opening their own business and small loans shall be available for such things as buying an interview suit, attending interviews and relocating for work.

- Welfare "reform" enacted under Clinton repealed. Welfare goes back to being a non-time-limited entitlement but administered through the JobCentre and contingent upon actively seeking work (we leave Congress to work out the details of what "actively seeking" means). Legislation introduced obliging all businesses to firstly, respond to job applications (nothing more disheartening for a job seeker than companies that just ignore applications) and secondly, respond to JobCentre enquires about interview attendance (too many horror stories of people who lose their welfare because companies couldn't be bothered replying).

- The BDFL's administration has no intention of rewarding the lazy or workshy but if you genuinely cannot work or if you genuinely cannot land a job despite your best efforts, we will look after you.

- Creation of the Rebuild America Corps (name up for debate since I don't much like it). This is a central plank of the BDFL's platform. The RAC shall offer employment to unemployed persons (starting with the long-term unemployed) and ex-convicts (if we want people to reform, they have to be given the opportunity) to rebuild the USA's crumbling infrastructure along with various community enhancing projects like clearing graffiti, building low-income housing or beautifying countryside. Wages shall start at minimum wage and, so much as is possible, respect worker's religious/philosophical commitments (For example, Muslims will be given time out for their required prayers). So much as is possible, workers existing skills shall be respected (i.e. administrative slots shall be mostly filled by unemployed clerical workers). However, workers can request assignment to alternative areas if they wish to broaden their skills (for example, a bricklayer can request assignment to a weatherising team to broaden his skills) and can earn on-the-job certification in that area (i.e. our bricklayer can earn his certification in weatherisation). The RAC shall work with local charities and government in assessing local needs and desires. Since the USA currently has both a crumbling infrastructure and a high percentage of unemployment, the creation of the RAC will address both problems. As time goes on, the RAC will become a beloved institution, it provides teenagers with their first real jobs, allows the unemployed to retain their dignity with the feeling that they are contributing to society and earning an honest wage doing so and allows ex-cons the opportunity to rebuild their lives with an honest trade. Social perception of the unemployed turns around when the average citizen can see teams of RAC workers in hi-vis vests rebuilding the local community.

- Once the economy is back under control (which we estimate at 5-8 years), our administration will introduce free tuition at college and/or trade schools for anyone who does not already hold a college degree or professional certification.

- Estate tax reinstated on estates above $2.5 million. All family-owned farms, the property designated as primary residence and any works of art or historic import which are exhibited to the public shall be exempted when working out each estate.

- Congressional committee instituted to examine the corporate tax code for loopholes and write legislation to close them.

- Moratorium on foreclosures, to be reviewed after six months. Legislation that if the company holding your mortgage cannot produce the legally required paperwork in court, your home is signed over to you and they have to swallow the loss.

- NAFTA/CAFTA renegotiated with a view to limiting both agreements to goods which cannot be produced in the USA.

- Any company which moves it's production facilities overseas for the purpose of maximising profits (note, this is quite different from a company getting out of a particular sector or closing a money-losing division) shall see their import duties doubled for the next ten years AND must pay it's redundant workers a minimum of two year's salary (worked out as an average if wages vary) as severence.

- No board member may be paid more than fifty (50) times the wage of the companies lowest paid employee, including bonuses and benefits. This encourages the raising of wages across the board, channels more of the profits to the stockholders who actually own the company and prevents the board voting themselves exhorbitant pay and benefits packages. This shall not apply to sole trader and partnership businesses on the grounds that they are risking their own time and money.

- Minimum wage raised to $10 an hour for small businesses, $12.50 an hour for corporations nationwide. Individual states may raise it further if they choose.


- Cannabis consumption legalised in private residences. In public areas (such as bars), it shall be at the discretion of the owner. Buying and/or growing cannabis for personal consumption shall be legalised for those of or above the age of 18. Selling cannabis shall require a sales license for selling intoxicants in the same way as alcohol. Like any other adult pleasure, cannabis is age-restricted (initially set at age 18) and driving while under the influence is banned (driving under the influence of anything which alters perceptions is a bad idea). In other words, if you want to smoke a fat doobie in your living room, it's no business of the law. If you grow your own for personal consumption or with a few friends, that's equivelent to brewing your own beer and, again, none of our business. All persons imprisoned for simple possession or consumption of cannabis shall be freed as soon as logistically possible.

- In the case of drug charges for simple possession or consumption, there shall be a presumption against imprisonment and toward rehabilitation. It is cheaper, more effective and more humane to rehabilitate addicts rather than imprison them where possible.

- We shall create a commission of chemists, scientists, sociologists and criminologists who shall be charged with assessing the effect of various drugs (including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine for comparison purposes) on both the individual and society and making recommendations on the legal status of each drug which shall, except in exceptional circumstances, be made law.

- Moritorium on the enactment of the death penalty while racial disparities in sentencing are studied and resolved to the BDFL's satisfaction. Outright ban on enacting the death penalty on anyone with an IQ of or below 75 or with a physical or mental age of below 18.

- Option of sentencing prisoners to LWOP (Life Without Possibility of Parole) shall be introduced in all cases where the death penalty would be available.

- Mandatory drug screening and, if necessary, rehabilitation shall be introduced in all prisons, starting with and concentrating on soon-to-be-released prisoners (more effective that way).

- Nobody under 18 shall be tried as an adult without the concurring opinions of two psychologists that the accused is mentally an adult.

- Enactment of the "Romeo & Juliet" law. Where both partners are within both four years of one another AND the junior partner is within 18 months of the age of consent, sexual intercourse shall NOT be considered rape and neither partner shall be considered a sex offender.

- Top-to-bottom ongoing review of criminal law to ensure constitutionality. This will take years but needs to be done.

- Nominations for the SCOTUS shall henceforth be made by the American Bar Association (who shall nominate those it considers moderate in their views and cast-iron adherents to the principles of law). Nominations shall be considered/confirmed by both branches of Congress, requiring a passing vote in both chambers. Recess appointments shall NOT be allowed for the SCOTUS. Confirmation shall be for a term of twelve years, upon which Justices must either retire or be re-nominated and re-confirmed. There shall be no limit on how many terms a Justice can serve and Justices may retire at their own discretion at any time.

- A new Ethics Committee shall be created to police the SCOTUS Justices. The current Justices have proven they cannot be trusted to act ethically without a watchdog.

- The Citizen's United decision overturned and quashed.

- Gambling legalised for over-18s nationwide. Premises and persons whose business is gambling (i.e. casinos, bookies, arcades, etc) must be inspected and licensed for the usual safety checks and for keeping out the underage and/or the intoxicated. Businesses and persons engaged in the gambling trade have the usual freedom to refuse service but are obliged to refuse service to anyone they consider underage or intoxicated. Repeated violations of that rule may result in the revokation of the license. Providers are also obliged to provide a receipt of placed bets and to pay out on production of a valid slip for a winning bet. It's at their discretion whether they pay out if you don't produce it so keep hold of your betting slip. There shall be a 5% tax on bets or winnings (gambler's choice) in sports gambling.


- DOMA overturned.

- DADT overturned straight away, military integrated tommorrow.

- Civil marriage extended to same-sex couples within the next six weeks. The law shall be written in such a way that in all respects but the very, very technical (such as exactly how "consumation" is defined), same-sex marriage shall be considered legally identical to hetero marriage. The six-week delay is purely for logistical reasons. Military granted a three-month delay to prepare (for example, by building additional married couples quarters).

- Israel gets six months to sort out some kind of reasonable compromise with the Palestinians (or make what the BDFL considers a good faith effort) or we cut off aid.

- We institute the BUSA (Benefactor of the United States of America) medal. This conveys no additional rights or priveliges but is intended to be the highest civilian award the USA can bestow and equivelent to a British Life Peerage, a way for the USA to single out and appreciate those civilians who have made a remarkable contribution to the country. All US residents shall be eligible for nomination but a maximum of twelve medals can be handed out each year (save for the first year, to allow the nomination of all the Founders) and there is no minimum number. Being awarded a BUSA should be the highlight of anyone's life, an honour equivelent to the Noble Prize and a way for the country to say a secular "well done, thy good and faithful servant". No publically elected official shall be eligible for nomination until thirty (30) years after their death (intended to prevent both the pro forma nomination of past presidents and using the BUSA to make political hay). These are intended to be the greatest civilians the USA has ever produced and should be recognised accordingly.

- Federal purchases of goods must be spent within the USA unless no American company produces the required goods. For example, if the USHS wishes to purchase ambulances, they must purchase from a US company unless there is no US company producing suitable ambulances.

- Creation of the Department of Humanitarian Services. This department shall be the agency responsible (or co-responsible in some cases) for bettering the citizen's condition. In other words, their job is to fight for the improvement of the citizen's life in all areas. Sometimes, they shall be acting alone (for example, library funding now falls under their remit) and other times, they will be liasing with other departments (for example, with the Department of Justice in formulating rehabilitation recommendations). Other departments have a complex agenda where different pressures must be evaluated and weighed, the DHS has only one: The improvement of citizen's lives.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

One Moment In History

March 30th was the 10th wedding aniversary of the world's first legally married same-sex couple. They are two Dutch women, married a decade ago and they're still together and still in love.

I rant and rave a lot on this blog and that's because there's a lot of injustice in the world. As far as gay rights go, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep but just for once, let's take a moment to warm our hearts with a love that has endured.

Congratulations, you two. May it be only one of many happy aniversaries.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fascism And The USA

Let's get a few things straight before we get going here. Firstly, fascism is on the right of the political spectrum. In fact, it's the furthest right position possible. It's left-wing analogue in Communism. In very simple terms, the difference is that in Communism, the state (in theory) serves the people while in Fascism, the people serve the state. Granted, the two look similar to the person suffering under them because both are authoritarian and authoritarian regimes always look somewhat similar but they have very different reasons for being authoritarian. Secondly, despise whatever lies you may have been told, fascism and socialism or communism have nothing to do with each other. While the mental picture of Fascism tends to bring to mind Hitler's Nazi party (it's not a Godwins if you're talking about legitimate history) which was called the "Socialist Worker's Party", the plain facts are that firstly, the "Socialist" appelation pre-dates Hitler's rise to leadership; secondly, the insertion of "Socialist" in the name and a couple of socialist points in the manifesto were a fairly cynical attempt to bring in extra members and thirdly, upon Hitler's assumption of power, all the Socialist aspects except the name were dropped under Hitler's instructions (the Nazi party being run under fuhrerprinzip or "what the boss says, goes").

Fascism as a political ideaology can be attributed to Mussolini, who invented (or possibly stole, it's unclear) the ideaology sometime between 1915 and 1920. Mussolini variously described the ideaology as being "the union of corporate and state power" or "corporate control of the state". It's clear that, while under Communism, the state would control business; under Fascism, business would control the state. Depending on which version of Fascism you're talking about (Mussolini's is Classical Fascism, Hitler's was Racial Fascism, there are many other variations), you can sometimes add that the state would curtail or encourage various business practices depending on what industries it considered valuable (this was far more prevelent in Hitler's version than Mussolini's). While Communism envisions the state gradually withering away entirely to leave a collectivist utopia, Fascism concentrates power into the state and the state prostrates itself to business.

Now, the topic of this essay is whether the USA can be considered a Fascist state. To that end, we shall start by looking at Dr Lawrence Britt's list of Fascism's fourteen defining features but before we start, a word of caution about Dr Britt's list: While I'm sure that Dr Britt does not intend to promote misinformation with his list, he has a tendancy to use "Fascism" as a generic term for authoritarianism and, in my opinion, misses a few pointers and gives too much weight to others. However, his list makes a good starting point so here we go.

1 - Powerful and Continuing Nationalism. This is one of the major features of Fascism and one where it can be easily distinguished from socialism or Communism. While Socialism and Communism are explicitly transnational (think of the Communist Internationale), Fascism is powerfully nationalist and, usually, nativist. The flag is seen everywhere and the nation is identified with the party. On this one, the USA is guilty as sin. The USA has always been more nationalistic than many nations. Think of popular slogans like "love it or leave it" or "my country, right or wrong". Think of how often any American criticising an American policy or historical act has to stress that they love their country. In other nations, that would just be assumed. Think of the doctrine of "American Exceptionalism" or the uproar when Michelle Obama said she was "really proud of her country" for the first time. In the USA, patriotism is not just expected but socially enforced by public approbation.

2 - Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights. Because of Fascism's use of scapegoats and fearmongering and the glorification of the state, rights are seen not as due simply for being human or granted by the divine but granted by the state, which may withdraw them as it wishes. Frequently, rights are first withdrawn from official scapegoats with the rationale that "they're only terrorists/communists/Jews/Gypsies, they don't deserve rights". Here, the USA has a mixed record. The Bush administration's hatred of human rights is well known (and their escape from accountability will forever be a stain on Obama's record). The withdrawal of habeus corpus rights from anyone accused of terrorism (including at least two American citizens) is notorious. While it's unclear whether Bush's reputed description of the Bill of Rights as a "goddamn piece of paper" was actually true or not, it's clear that they acted as if it were. The Obama administration has not gone any further in destroying humans rights than the Bush administration did. However, they have also not reversed much of the damage. Most provisions of the Orwellian-named PATRIOT Act remain in force, Gitmo remains open. So a mixed result.

3 - Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause. Fascist regimes always single out something to unite against. In this, Fascism understands human nature far better than many political ideaologies. It is vastly easier to get humans to unite and stop grumbling when you convince them that they're under attack. It's also the case that humans love to play the victim. You will rarely find any societal group, no matter how repugnant, that doesn't claim to be under attack. White supremacists claim to be under attack by race-mixing, Fred Phelps claims to be under attack from "sodomites", even Hitler claimed to be defending Germany against Polish forces (no, I'm not kidding). Here, again, the USA has a mixed record. Historically, one could mention the crazed panic of "Reds under the bed" and McCarthyism (as it turned out, while the USSR would doubtless have loved to undermine US society, they never came close to having the capacity to do so). In recent history, the Bush admin used terrorists as a unifying scapegoat (although, credit where it's due, they never equated terrorists with Muslims despite many fellow travellers doing so) while the Obama admin hasn't used it half as much. In fact, this is a far more pronounced tendancy on the American right than the left. While outright hatred of Obama in particular and liberals/progressives in general has become a cause celebre on the right and the Teabaggers sole defining characteristic, there is nothing similar on the left (no, Baggers, liberals were NOT this bad to Bush). So, mixed again.

4 - Supremacy of the Military. In Fascist regimes, the military is always given a disproportionate amount of funding, military service is glorified and glamorised. Now, is the USA guilty of this one? OH HELL, YES! The USA spends more on it's military than every other nation in the world combined. The yearly budget increase alone is more than the entire military budget of your nearest competitor. The USA has enough firepower to render the planet devoid of life several times over and that's without even using the nuclear arsenal. And military spending is sacrosanct. Even when the economy is supposedly in trouble, no-one is seriously talking about cuts in military spending. Likewise, joining the military is not just seen as performing a valuable and necessary service , as it is in other nations, but as an automatic act of heroism sufficient to give one additional gravitas even in unconnected areas. John McCain's entire campaign for president was contingent on his having spent five years as a PoW in Vietnam and, while I respect that service, one must ask how it gives him any additional insight on, say, economics or foreign relations?

5 - Rampant Sexism. In Fascist regimes, power tends to be controlled almost exclusively by males. Women are exhorted to breed, to be homemakers. Traditional gender roles are socially enforced. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are surpressed. Here, again, the USA has a mixed record. While no-one would claim that the USA is free of sexism, it has become both less prevelent and less tolerated in recent years. Divorce is relatively easily available and while gay rights still has a long way to go, things are slowly moving in the right direction. The rampant sexism often claimed by supporters of Hillary Clinton's campaign for president turned out, on inspection, to be mostly untrue (mostly, there were some seriously sexist attacks on her though). The exception is abortion. Abortion rights in the USA have always been under attack. While the Supreme Court legalised abortion under most circumstances with Roe V. Wade, the American pro-life movement (which is concentrated on the right but not exclusively so) has never conceded their loss. Challenges to the law by both individuals and state legislatures are frequent and campaigns of threats, intimidation and sometimes outright terrorism have forced many abortion providers out of business.

6 - Controlled Mass Media. The USA is innocent of this one. Fascist regimes tend to have a controlled media, either through outright state control (interestingly, the BBC, which is state controlled, is considered the global standard of scrupulous impartiality) or through sympathetic media figures and censorship is common. Here, the USA can hold it's hands up and say "not us". While the media in the USA is controlled by it's corporate ownership and therefore, the USA has the most conservative media in the free world (anyone who genuinely thinks the US media is liberally biased should shoot themselves to remove their stupidity from the gene pool), the state exerts very little control over the media itself. Regulation consists mainly of dividing up the available TV and radio bandwidth and ensuring against monopoly (although even that is very often ignored). The FCC, an organ of state, attempts to control content to ensure appropriate broadcast times (and is sometimes absurdly restrictive on sexual grounds) but censorship on political grounds is entirely absent. One must mention Fox News here. Fox News is dedicated to attacking Democrats and liberals/progressives in general and President Obama in particular. As much as they may bleat about Obama's supposed "fascism", their continued operation proves otherwise because such a 24/7 attack/smear machine would never be allowed in a Fascist regime.

7 - Obsession with National Security. This one goes in cycles. In general, the sequence goes that there is a terrorist or international incident. Then the USA goes batshit crazy about national security for a few years, stripping back rights, inconvieniencing the average person and arresting anyone who looks sideways at a landmark. Then gradually, the panic wears off and things go back to more-or-less normal and the cycle repeats.

8 - Religion and Government are Intertwined. This is another one much more true of right-wing administrations than leftish ones. It's easily observable that the USA is one of the most religiously extreme natiuons in the western world, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of the public psyche. In right-wing administrations, the state tends to push religion as much into state power as it legally can (and, in some cases, further). Again, the Bush admin should be our guide. Bush instituted the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (as one wag pointed out "9/11 was a faith-based initiative"), positions were commonly staffed by graduates of Pat Robertson's university. Monica Goodling, a Bush appointee who ended up smack in teh middle of the US Attorneys scandal, routinely made staff recomendations based on religious views and Whitehouse prayer meetings and Bible study were, while not enforced, an expected part of life. While Obama is a Christian (or claims to be anyway, it's not my job to play No True Scotsman) and has continued the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, he has been noticeably more circumspect about bringing his faith into his public life. Partly, that can be attributed to the attention whoring of his former pastor, Rev Wright.

9 - Corporate Power is Protected. Another biggie. This, and the following entry, are two of the defining features of Fascism. The industrial and business leaders are both those who put politicians into power and those who benefit from their policies, creating a mutal cycle of corruption (in fact, if not in law). And on this one, the USA is guilty. The tremendous deference shown to wealth in the USA is easily observable, both by the almost deification of business leaders and by the public outrage shown when the Obama admin suggested raising the top rate of income tax by 3.5%. Suddenly, a wimpy moderate of a leader became "SOCIALIST, COMMUNIST!". While Obama has been less deferential to wealth than Bush, he has still been far more accomodating than most Western leaders.

10 - Labor Power is Suppressed. Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed. This is another one where there's a real left/right divide. The right, which has become simply the political arm of Big Business, is ruthlessly anti-labour and routinely presses for lower wages and benefits or, lately, the outright banning of the union's power of collective bargaining ("First, they came for the trade unionists"). The left tends to be more supportive of labour power and while teh cynical would say that's because trades unions donate mainly to Democrats (and there's an element of truth to that), they rarely ask why unions mainly donate to Democrats.

11 - Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts. Another one where the divide is pronounced. The right in teh USA is fiercely opposed to both intellectuals and the arts and has been for many years. There is a very, very strong streak of anti-intellectualism to the right which is not only suspicious of intellectual achievment but outright hostile to being taught anything. If you took a shot every time Sarah Palin bashed intellectuals, you'd almost be as wasted as Sarah Palin. On the other side, the left has a tendancy to listen to intellectuals only selectively (see for example, the fact that scientists have been ringing giant alarm bells about global warming for years) and ignore the arts altogether.

12 - Obsession with Crime and Punishment . This is another one the USA is guilty of. Of the countries which release statistics, the USA has the highest population of prisoners in the world. Red China locks up less people than the USA does. The US has over seven million people either imprisoned or on parole, around 730 people per 100,000. The nearest comparison is Russia which has 584 per 100k. And there is a marked racial disparity. 70% of US prisoners are non-white. In fact, of the three major ethnic groups in prison, whites make up the least populous group and blacks the most (Hispanics are in the middle). The USA is also one of the very few western nations which retains the use of the death penalty and by far the western nation which uses it most. In 2009 (2010 records unavailable), the USA executed 52 people. Compared to China (which executed at least 1700), that's not too bad but it stands in marked contrast to the rest of the western world which executed none. I don't want to argue the merits of the death penalty here but there is often a disturbing level of glee seen in teh USA when someone is executed. The execution seen less as a terrible necessity than a cause for celebration.

13 - Rampant Cronyism and Corruption. We're using "corruption" here in it's non-legal sense. That is, the influence of personal advantage or nepotism in policy. And here is another where the USA is guilty as sin. The revolving door between politics, business and media doesn't need any further ranting from me, one needs only examine Dick Cheney's personal history. Fox currently has at least three possible Republican candidates for president in 2012 under contract. Bush was the son of a former president, Hillary the wife of another. In itself, it doesn't prove nepotism but it is an uncomfortable observation for a country which supposedly has no aristocracy.

14 - Fraudulent Elections. Now, this one is complicated. I will go to my grave knowing that the general election of 2000 was stolen. That is known, it is proven (by the Florida Ballots Project) and it is not up for dispute. The 2004 election, I don't know. The 2006 and 2008 elections clearly weren't stolen but they may have been tampered with. What's more concerning is that the US's use of unaccountable "black box" voting machines makes it impossible to be sure of election results. That such machines are absurdly easy to corrupt is well known and has been demonstrated numerous times but what is less well known is that the state is not even allowed to examine or certify the software they use. It's proprietery software, considered "trade secrets" so the companies that manufacture the machines have to simply say "Trust us".

That's Dr Britt's list. I consider it incomplete. I would add:
- Rural populations are exhorted. Within all Fascist regimes, the simplicity of the common volk is glorified. Granted, this is also a feature of Soviet Communism (to the extent that Soviet artwork has been described as "girl meets tractor"). On this, the American right is clearly guilty. Witness Bachmann's paens to small-town America, "real America, if you will"; Palin's pride at coming from a state with the population of San Bernadino. Fascism always comes from such rural populations or, at least, seeks to identify itself with them.

- Obsession with productivity. In the words of the Nazis "Work will make you free". Work is held to be the reason for living and those unable to contribute are derided as "freeloaders" or "scroungers". The USA is guilty on this one but so is much of the rest of the world. The British ConDem government (evil, evil bastards) have made it the cornerstone of their entire economic policy.

- Looks back to a "glorious" past. "I want my country back!". How often have you heard that in recent months? This is another feature where Fascism and Communism are directly opposed. While Communism always looks forward to a glorious future, Fascism always looks back to a glorious part, a (usually imagined) Golden Age. For Mussolini, it was the Roman Empire. For Hitler, it was the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither holy, Roman nor an empire). For the American right, it's the 1950s. An era where minorities, women and children knew their place, everyone had a job that paid decent wages and the USA bestrode the world like a collossus. The irony, of course, is that much of their perception of that period is based more on Happy Days than actual history and the Democratic policies they so bitterly oppose are the ones more likely to help get back to that employment level.

So, those are my additions and we're up to 17 points. Taking those into consideration, I would say that the USA is NOT a Fascist nation (yet) but that the country is in danger of becoming so and teh American right, the Teabaggers in particular, very much are Fascists. What I hope I've demonstrated through this essay is that "Fascism" isn't just a nasty name to call someone or a synonym for all authoritarian regimes. It is a specific set of reasons and principles, a defined and identifiable ideaology.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Things We Should Have Learned By Now

Earlier this evening, I was having a conversation on one of Scott's posts with a nice chap called Lars who I don't think I've met before. And we ended up talking about the need to put some decent funding into space research so we can get off this damn rock. Not everyone, just the vaguely sane people (I realise that a mentally ill guy calling himself part of the "sane people" is just dripping with irony). And the new society we'll set up. Our new society will have it's problems, as any society does but in contrast to what we have right now, we'll have learned from our mistakes. The mistakes we've made in this society, mistakes that are now so embedded as to be near-impossible to correct, we'll already know to avoid them. Oh, for sure we'll find all new mistakes to make but we'll know to...

Keep carbon emissions below 350 ppm.

Three hundred and fifty parts per million is the scientifically established safe level of carbon emissions. Above that level, the earth gets warmer and we're all in trouble. Below that, the temprature stays the same or, just possibly, even drops. Granted, the new planet we set up house on will have a slightly different safe level but we don't know what that will be yet so I've just used the earth's limit. We'll have to do this on our new planet because this one is already fucked. The very concept of climate change is now so politicised that it's impossible to do anything about it. In the halls of power, they're not talking about how to deal with this problem, they're talking about whether the problem even exists. The cap-and-trade program that Obama's endorsed won't help the problem and might even make it worse and even THAT is too much for too many. And that's something else we'll have learned:

Don't let politicians decide science by vote.

Science is done by scientists. The second politicians start discussing science,. it becomes politicised and that inevitibly means it becomes a matter of party affiliation. The politicians we have now refuse to do a damn thing about the fact that our planet is melting. Abstinence-only sex-ed clearly and provably doesn't work but politicians keep funding it because they think it should work. Stem-cell research, which could save or improve countless lives, doesn't get funded because politicians know shit about the science involved. A basic rule of humanity is that humans are, by and large, fucking dense. We have this really cute idea that one side makes their decisions by emotion and the other side makes theirs by cold, hard reason. It's a cute theory and, like most cute theories, it's bollocks. Research done with people who actually can't feel any emotion (mainly due to brain damage) shows them to be utterly indecisive and that's because humans rarely make decisions by reason. We use reason to rationalise decisions we make by emotion. And one of these days, I'll write one of these essays about how terrifyingly easy it is to manipulate the human mind. Point I'm making is that most people make their decisions by emotion and politicians, who have very well-paid staff who know that, know how to manipulate those emotions. And nowhere is that more apparent than with science. Because most people don't understand science and don't really want to.

Don't let everyone think they're an expert on everything.

I might catch some flack for this one but I studied law and I'm currently studying criminology with psychology. Law is a subject where everyone instantly considers themselves expert. Some case comes before the SCOTUS and everyone thinks they understand the issues at stake. Plain truth is, law uses specialist language and principles and most people don't have the experiance or training to understand them (or why "activist judge" is a nonsense phrase). Medicine is the same way. I'm mentally ill, I have been for some time. As soon as you admit that, especially on the internet, you get a bazillion orders from everyone and their dog that you should take vitamins, take excercise, stop taking your meds. Advice like this gets people killed. Among my many other problems, I have Major Depressive Disorder. Telling someone with MDD to stop taking their meds drops their life expectancy to a matter of weeks. The climate change "debate" is the same way; people without a day's training or experiance in climate science who instantly think they know better than trained professionals who have devoted their lives to studying the subject. Biblical literalists (they like to call themseloves "Bible-believing" like literalism is the only form of belief) who think they know better than paleontologists who've spent their whole lives immersed in study and will still tell you that they don't know everything about the subject. And it's because we've eliminated the concept of expertise. We've gone from "your opinion is valuable" (which it is) to "your opinion counts as much as anyone else's" (which it doesn't). Yes, the experts in a subject can occasionally be flat wrong, no arguments there, but they are a damn sight more likely to be right than muggins off the street who thinks Glenn Beck is a prophet and The Sun is a newspaper. When people who have studied the subject are talking, either ask some sensible questions or shut the fuck up. If Gordon Ramsay is trying to teach you how to cook, shut the fuck up and listen. If John Dicey is trying to teach you law, shut the fuck up and listen. If Kurt Angle is trying to teach you how to wrestle, shut the fuck up and listen. Asking intelligent questions and taking notes is also encouraged. Our society has become terrified of telling people that they don't know what they're fucking talking about. It's said that the more you know about a subject, the more you become aware of how little you know. I'm sure that's true but I think someone needs to add the caveat: The less you know about a subject, the more likely you are to think yourself an expert in it.

People are people are people.

This one really should be a no-brainer but our society still has problems with it: Treating everyone the same, giving everyone the same rights. And yes, I'm talking partly about letting gay people get hitched. Now personally, I don't see why anyone would want to marry but that's besides the point. Usually, at this point, some dickhead starts saying that gay people have the same right to marry someone of the opposite sex as everyone else but that's bullshit, that's playing fucking word games. If that worked, we could shut down every church except mine. You still have the freedom to be a Satanist like any rational person after all. There is a reason the phrase "one size fits all" appears in no known Constitution or Bill of Rights anywhere and that's because you don't have freedom if the state bans everything else. Loving V. Virginia defined marriage as a "fundemental human right" and sorry, wingers, there is nothing so extraordinary about same-sex marriage that the ruling has to add "this includes the queers too" (yes, I believe in reclaiming unpleasent words. I also believe in hitting people who use them unironically). Likewise, I can't see why any gay person would want to join the military especially right now but if straight people have the option of getting their nuts shot off, gay people should have that option too. Gay people are exactly the same as straight people in almost every regard; same plumbing, different wiring. That's the only difference. Some guys want to shag Johnny Depp, some girls want to shag Angelina Jolie. I'm bi so I'll take both (because I'M HARDCORE! and only fans of old-school ECW will get that joke). Look, humans are pretty simple and we're mostly much the same. We almost all want the same things. We want shelter, food and drink and we want someone to share our lives with. Yeah, I'm talking about love. Love is what redeems us, it's what makes us something more than just a super-evolved ape and love, real love, is so rare in this world. Every seer and visionary down through the ages has told us the same thing. Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus; all of them said the same thing, the same thing John Lennon said: Love is the answer and you know that for sure. Are we really stupid enough, petty enough and spiteful enough that we would shut off someone's chance at happiness (or permanency, depending on your experiance of marriage) just because a guy likes cock or a girl likes pussy? A lot of us are that petty and that spiteful and that baffles me. I'm not a very nice guy (despite this rep I've bafflingly acquired) but even I'm not that much of a bastard.

Don't let megacorporations buy news providers

Another one that should be a no-brainer but has become so deeply embedded that we'll never get it out. Wingers love to trot out that survey where most reporters admit to having liberal social views (although they always ignore the part of that same survey that shows reporters generally have conservative economic views). Thing is, reporters don't decide what goes into news media, editors do and editors tend to be conservative and part of the reason editors tend to be conservative is because they're the ones accountable to media owners and the corporations that generally own the media tend to be conservative. In fact, corporations generally tend to be conservative and that's entirely logical. To be conservative means to be opposed to, or at least wary of, change and corporations that are successful enough to own media outlets don't want change, they've already got the world arranged just the way they like it. In fact, corporations generally want change rolled back, preferably to the Gilded Age when workers were desperate and had zero protections (see, Scott Walker). That anyone could actually believe that the US media is predominantly liberal simply proves what I was saying earlier about how easy it is to manipulate humans because the US has the most conservative media in the free world. Even the channel considered most liberal, MSNBC, has a Republican former elected official for three honkin' hours every morning.

Don't let them buy politicians either

Oh boy, the Citizen's United decision was a fucking catastrophe. The US system of funding political campigns is perilously close to outright bribery. The politicians would have us believe that the millions fuinnelled to them by corporate donors doesn't affect their votes. You have got to be kidding. Look, basic human nature dictates that if someone plays a big part in placing you in a position of power and priviledge, a position that if you're careful, you can extend into a lifelong gravy train (see Gingrich, Newt; see also "crook"), you are at least going to feel warmly about that person. And politicians are no different. If Exxon helps get a pol elected, he is, at very least, going to give Exxon more of a hearing than he would of a company that hadn't given him millions of dollars. Now, Republicans have given up any pretence of being anything other than the political arm of Big Business but the Democrats aren't a great deal better (although there are a few notable exceptions, take a bow Dennis Kucinich). We are asked to believe that politicians are both "just like you" and also such a rarified breed that basic human emotional drives don't apply to them. Of course, if they didn't apply, they would be psychopaths which is scarcely more reassuring. And speaking of psychopaths...

No Ayn Rand.

Do I even need to justify this one?

Corporations are not people.

First off, a corportion is not a person. The basic definition of a human being can be found in any encyclopaedia, while a corporation is a piece of shorthand we use purely for legal convienience. Now, "personhood" is, to some extent, also a legal construct but from it's very beginnings, it has had a specific meaning: A (born, although that came later) human being. Not an automaton, not an animal and not a legal construct. A corporation has all the advantages of being human but none of the drawbacks. A corporation cannot starve, feel cold or wet or have it's heart broken. A corporation doesn't have to worry about paying the rent or keeping the electricity turned on. In a lot of ways, a corporation is closer to a vampire (the traditional folk tale version) than a human; it's sole reason for existing is to generate profit which it then uses to generate even more profit. Indeed, legally, that is the only duty of the corporation and it's directors. Humans are not so simple. Humans have numerous competing needs and desires. If you could look inside the head of even a mentally healthy person, you would see a constant struggle between desires for basic survival needs, for status, for companionship, for a hundred things. Not the corporation. It has only one desire.

Secondly and politically, an individual is limited to a campaign contribution of (I believe) $2,400 per cycle. A corporation may, however, make limitless donations in kind (another legal construct, in kind means that the receiver enjoys the benefit even though no cash changes hands) by buying tv time. Since tv time is likely to be a, if not the, major outlay for campaigning politicians, that amounts, in effect, to unlimited campaign contributions. And because a corporation is an automaton (lacking self-direction), those contributions will be made at the behest of the board of directors. By filtering the contribution through the corporation, the limit on contributions has effectively been abolished for directors. The US system of campaign financing is already perilously close to outright bribery. Whether we wish to alleviate that complaint rather depends on whether you plan your future to include elections or auctions.

Thirdly, this creates an unholy mess of legal principles. A human may commit crimes and, if caught, may be fined. Fair enough, a corporation may be fined as well (although they rarely are and never enough to make a difference). However, a human may also be imprisoned or, if the crimes are severe enough, executed. A corporation cannot be imprisoned and while it can be executed after a fashion by being wound up, those responsible for the crimes of the corporation walk away, free and clear and quite possibly to commit the same crimes at another corporation. Further, the law depends on a balance of rights and responsibilities. The responsibilities are usually implicit but they are there nonetheless. For example, your right to keep and bear arms carries the responsibly to do so responsibly. We might quibble over precisely what "responsibly" means but we do not deny that we have that obligation. Your right to free speech carries the rsponsibility to excercise that right with some care (the "yelling FIRE! in a crowded theatre example) and so on. Well, if a corporation is a legal person and has rights, what are it's responsibilities? It has only one responsibility: To gorge itself, to profit just as much as it can. That is it's only consideration. Legally, that can be it's only consideration. This is roughly equivelent to raising a child to believe that his only responsibility is to satisfy himself, come what may. We call people like that psycho or sociopaths. Ambrose Bierce once remarked that a corporation was "an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility".

Fourth, a corporation is a psychopath. I touched on this above but it needs spelling out. Some humans have, for reasons we do not yet fully understand, a conscience and sense of empathy which is either extremely minimised or absent entirely. These people are called psychopaths ("sociopath" means the same thing, both are covered by Antisocial Personality Disorder). Contrary to popular belief, they are not automatically violent but because they lack conscience, because they feel no empathy or remorse, if one decides that his personal desires will be best satisfied through violence, he will act to satiate those desires as soon as is practical. A corporation also has no conscience, no sense of empathy or remorse. The people in charge of that corporation may do (or may not, a surprising amount of business leaders test out as psychopaths) but because decisions are made at a distance from the subject, that conscience may well not be sufficient to prevent a decision from causing damage. When you see your customers every day, when it's actual people coming into your store (for example), your subconscious marks them down as human, like you, and therefore beings you can feel empathy toward. However, if your only contact with your customers is as numbers in a book, account names on a profit and loss record, you don't think of them as entirely "real". That's not a unique thing, it's a perfectly normal human trait. It's the same reason why Americans were more emotionally affected by 9/11 than the London Tube bombings, it's the same reason I was more emotionally affected by the Tube bombings than by 9/11. Because I've visited London many times and used the Tube frequently, it was more emotionally real to me than the destruction of a landmark on another continent that I'd never visited or seen or known anyone who was there. That reduction of emotional impact for things with which you are not personally familiar is entirely normal. It is also entirely normal for humans to feel less concerned about the plight of someone distant from them (among others, it was observed by Milgram in his famous experiment). That's absolutely textbook human normal (note: "normal" does not mean "nice". Humans are a lot less psychologically pleasant than we like to believe) but when you combine those two perfectly normal psychological mechanisms, you end up with teh simple fact that, for the CEO atop his ivory tower, most of his employees and customers barely emotionally exist for him. It doesn't take a psychopath to poison the Gulf or dump hexavalient chromium into the water supply, all it takes is those two psychological mechanisms and the constant pressure to profit. If you are only barely emotionally aware of your employees and customers, why not drive them harder, why not slash their benefits and wages (real wages have been mostly stagnant for years), why not skip the safety testing?

I haven't brought you on this little journey to rant about the evils of corporations (although I could do that too). Rather, I am making the point that the corporation insulates it's controllers from the consquences of their actions to a great extent and thus, the corporation is able to take tremendously harmful actions without the soul-searching which a (mentally normal) human would be subject to. And thus, it can buy politicians to enable it without any second thoughts. And that's when politicians (especially Republicans) are not already doing it's bidding under the common misaprehension that being pro-capitalist necessarily means being pro-corporatist.

Fifth, and finally: If corporations are persons, why can't they vote? No, I'm serious. If corporations are legal persons, then they are covered by the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment. That makes them citizens and that entitles them to vote.

And I haven't even gotten into the politicisation of the courts yet...