A Letter to a Conservative Friend

An email I sent to a “conservative” friend recently whom I’ve had some charged debates with regarding the current economic crisis. I’m not suggesting I have any answers, but wanted to put this out there in case anyone has anything interesting to add or fix:

If you are interested, let’s do this in the spirit of scientific investigation (not debate teams!), in which we are all looking for the truth together and not defending any territory or tribe. I, for one, will disavow myself of any attachment to the Dem Party (and really never had any) and try hard to distance myself from my own ideologies. And let’s be specific and NOT argue debate philosophy. Rather, let’s find out how far apart we really are on today’s topics. I have an instinct that we’re not nearly as far apart as our rhetoric implies…

btw: I should note for the record that my politics have evolved dramatically over my life from devout Catholic, to apathetic youth, to idealistic communist, to Ayn Rand libertarian (10 years), to die-hard capitalist (10 years!), to whatever I am now (independent, science-based, anti-party, anti-lobby, anti-tribe, pro-rationality, socially liberal, humanitarian, atheist, globalist).

PRIMARY ASSERTION

No complex system is perfect and all require constant refinement, refactoring, and the periodic overhaul. Supply-side economics, free market capitalism, and a free society are the foundations of American success. However, in the last 25 years: a) the policies of deregulation w/o a safety net, b) extremely costly wars and bloated military budget, c) Wall Street cronyism, and d) extreme electoral influence by a small number of people, have broken the delicate balance of our once great nation, and have created a national debt, electoral process, and social imbalance (i.e. declining middle class) that are untenable. And the good news is that the changes needed to return to balance are not radical overhauls (e.g. communism), but common sense, practical changes that re-factor a system that has spun out of balance. The basic tenets of free market capitalism and a free, social meritocracy are still the foundation.

Moreover, to suggest that accelerating the current supply-side policies via MORE deregulation and privatization (i.e. dismantling government) without safeguards that protect citizens from industrial side-effects, appears to be based on simple stubborn ideology. Furthermore, blaming government and welfare families, cartooning liberals, chastising social security, and insulting immigrants–an undeniably strong element of the conservative position–has norationalbasis and unless I am mistaken, it’s an insidious tactic to scare conservative voters and create “target enemies” to distract attention from over-stepped, but theoretically sound, policies.

I don’t see why conservative politicians and people can’t agree with the MANY conservative economists who are saying: “We stand by our belief in free markets and supply-side economics and we will not stray far from them, but things have gotten out of control and we need fix it a bit so that we don’t destroy the middle class, have rigged elections, or hurt our citizens with industrial waste. We’re uncomfortable with big government as the solution, but recognize that we need SOME unbiased, science-based authority to protect our citizens and prevent cheating.”

Before you react, keep in mind that I–and the majority of liberals–am not suggesting that we shift towards Communism or any crazy ideas. Rather, we believe STRONGLY in a free market, free expression, capitalist meritocracy, and simply want to address the shortcomings that have developed in recent history. The conservative answer to our current disaster has been: “trust us, we’ll get rid of the big government–which caused these problems–and we’ll make even more money by getting regulations off our back, not pollute or poison anyone, let the “creators” (see Ayn Rand) rule the day, and when WE get rich, YOU get rich!” And as a big fan of free markets and capitalism, I find this argument shallow and frankly stupid.

“Friedman vs. Keynes”

Milton Friedman established some of the core ideas that now embody the current conservative economic position. Specifically, his well-respected theories on the merits of “free markets” and less government intervention are the cornerstone of this debate imo. (Of course, he was not nearly as radical as today’s GOP position, but let’s agree that his ideas are foundational.) But, Mr. Friedman was also a liberal and an early Keynesian, and recognized that there were areas that government (or some authority) needed to balance the free markets and protect everyday people. So, my first question to you is: Do you agree that the deregulation reforms over the last 25 years enacted by Dem and GOP congresses/presidents are a major contributor to our current financial meltdown or not? Before you answer, I’d like to acknowledge that this alone did not cause the crisis; the two wars, gigantic military budget, lowered taxes, and globalization effects are certainly primary factors as well.

Note: I believe that one of our core disagreement is what is the best way to ensurethatbusinesses don’t hurt people, i.e. regulation. The conservative argument has been that free markets regulate themselves because the economic system provides harsh feedback loops that discourage bad behavior and reward good behavior. I fundamentally AGREE that this is the best policy IFF its effective! However, over the last 25 years, the Dems and GOP have executed a dramatic systematic deregulation policy, BUT did not ensure that there were effective industry-based self-regulation policies in place. So, to be 100% clear, I am strongly attracted to the idea of self-regulation and trusting the markets, but it seems apparent to me that self-regulation (and even our current government regulation) has become a big joke. A good, albeit old, example imo is cigarettes: where was the self-regulation or self-correcting markets in this case?

OTHER TOPICS WORTH EXPLORING: Influence of “lobby” groups on the electoral process, redistricting and voter fraud, immigration.

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Anti-Obama Hysteria is Out of Control

Iowa billboard

This is an actual billboard in Iowa, created by the Iowa Tea Party.

This stuff really has me down. I wish I had some understanding of where this hate and despair is truly coming from. The number of people that feel this way–that Obama is the anti-Christ and that liberals are killing the country–is WAY out of bound with normalcy. It’s just too easy/lazy for the liberals to say “they’re all a bunch of rednecks and radicals” and dismiss them as stupid. Something else is happening here and we really need to understand it better (if we want to get our country back on track).

Is it really as simple as jobs or race? One one hand, job loss does fuel the rage when people feel anxiety about income and job security; the pitchforks get raised and the government is blamed. But, something inside of me says that its more than that. And, there’s been lots of research that says its not about race (my other intuition). Note that the GOP was nearly as vicious with Bill Clinton, Hillary, John Kerry, etc. So, race probably is part of the issue, but not the deepest root. Did the liberals and democrats get this vicious when Bush started a war for the wrong reasons? No (but maybe they should have).

I sense that something bigger and deeper is going on here and that it can only end in violence. Really. I honestly feel we’re closer to 1861 than most people realize. It feels to me that this problem is growing out of our control and nothing can turn it around until it climaxes, probably in some form of violence and tragedy. I hate to use this word lightly, but a lot of this rhetoric sounds like treason and mutiny to me.

Heather and I had a long debate last night. She’s a Canadian liberal, social progressive and ranted about all the core problems with America: over-powered lobby interests, financial greed, and an overall national character trait of me-me-me are the root problems in America. I argued that while I agree with a lot of her points, NOW is not the time to start picking the country apart. We are in the midst of several real national crises and this is the time for people to come together, support the government, not attack it, and solve the problems. We all learned this in Kindergarten for goodness sakes! This does not mean to roll over and accept everything the government says! Rather, it simply means that we all need to appreciate how grave the situation is, try to be constructive, and realize that these people are doing their best. Man, I sound like a conservative!  🙂  Remember how England came together during WWII?

I have a feeling that a lot of conservatives feel that the liberals did exactly the same thing during the eight-year Bush presidency, i.e. completely destructive and divisive tactics. It’s payback time! But, I honestly feel that things are very different and hope that this does not need proving (i.e. Iraq war was a lie, actual civil liberties reductions, lack of transparency, adversarial attitude with outsiders and rest of world, financial deregulation, etc.). But, I’ll bet that many of the extremist conservatives are rationalizing their bad behavior this way.

But seriously, if you’re gonna criticize Obama, you only have a few public policy issues to point at. First, is the health care law. But, anyone who actually takes the time to read the details knows that this health care law is actually quite conservative, and in fact looks almost identical to the plan offered by the GOP a few years ago. It’s nonsense to call this socialist.

The next thing that one might criticize Obama for is the economy. But, just like health care, his actions have paralleled exactly what the Republicans were doing and would do if they were in office. It’s the safe and conservative approach. It’s truly hypocritical for conservatives to bust on Obama for this, especially considering he inherited it from the GOP! Of course, the conservative argument is that Bill Clinton is the guy to blame since he also contributed to federal deregulation of business. But, seriously, does anyone have any doubt why we’re in this economic mess? It’s a result of the conservative principle of “let business do its thang and everyone else will benefit.” It’s their mantra for goodness sakes! It does not take a genius to see that this principle can be carried too far.

BTW: I am a big fan of free markets and some libertarian positions, but clearly now is the time for directed action by the federal government (you don’t expect the free markets to fix it, do you?). Let’s loosen things up after the crisis is over.

And lastly there’s the Gulf oil spill. It’s hypocritical for conservatives who have been calling for more US offshore drilling to criticize Obama for BP’s mistake. Ok, so if its not his fault for creating the problem, let’s attack Obama for not fixing it fast enough. How lame!

The last big ticket issue is Financial Reform. How is it possible for conservatives not to see the need for this after what happened in 2008? And frankly, the current bill is quite weak and really does not go far enough to prevent another meltdown of this type. Seems to me the conservatives are all about destroying Obama, regardless of what his policies are (even when they are quite close to GOP positions)! And, that really can’t be good for the country.

Side note: I’ve worked for a lot of different high-tech companies and there is always a lot of opinions and disagreement on strategy and execution. This is normal. I have observed that the companies that make decisions and execute them, without grousing or “I told you so” mentality, are the companies that succeed. Of course there are rare cases where you gotta go ballistic, but these are reserved for criminality and major ethics violations. Otherwise, you get with the program, even if you disagree and execute at 100%. I find there’s something liberating about the clarity and consensus of a plan that everyone supports and does not second guess. So, my point is that our country is in crisis, our leader is trying his best to lead us out of it, and it’s time to work together. Continue to disagree, improve the solutions, participate, make it better, but do not destroy the conversation, make up loony accusations, and turn it ugly.

btw: It’s kinda funny that I consider myself to be a “social liberal, fiscal conservative”, and for the most part, still do. But, right now, our country needs some major healing (economic, energy, and education policy). And, if the policies needed in desperate times oppose my everyday positions, I can get behind it.

Tired rhetoric that needs to end:

  • Obama is taking away our personal liberties. => Complete nonsense used to incite anger in lower-income folks.
  • Obama’s health care is socialism. => Man I wished it were, but it’s not. The health care bill is practically identical to the GOP proposal from a few years ago. It’s extremely weak and just a start. It’s nothing close to the successful systems used in Europe and Canada.
  • Obama has ruined the economy. => Come on, this is just nuts. Bush’s wars debt and GOP deregulation caused it.
  • Obama should not have bailed out the banks. => Yeah, right. And, let the world economy meltdown? No sane economic expert or leader would do this. Pure nonsense.
  • Obama is leading a fascist government. => WTF! This is really nutty stuff with no substance.
  • Obama is a radical. => I wished he were more of a radical! But, the facts are quite clear and the guy is another centrist democrat that could run as a Republican in some states.

Lastly, the personal attacks on Obama’s character just make no sense to me. Nothing about this man seems evil, false, incompetent, or insincere. He came into office with the strongest anti-partisan attitude of any president in recent history. He sincerely reached out to the GOP and tried to find common ground (well documented), but was strongly rebuked. He paid for this by looking weak and sappy. I think the guy truly prefers to work with his opponents than fight them, but the GOP just can’t seem to find it in themselves to work with the guy.  America is suffering as a result of their childishness.

Open Letter to White, Christian America

President George W. Bush took Ashley Faulkner in his arms

I noticed this photo on a guy’s Facebook feed. There were over 6,000 comments and I proceeded to read a bunch. I was flabbergasted. There were a lot of Texans posting about how much they miss and love George Bush. There was also a lot of very nasty stuff about President Obama. And, there was a lot of quotes from the Bible. It really stuck with me: the volume of comments, the anger from white Christians, the many incorrect facts, and how they are not interested in a dialog. IMO: This is the most important conversation in America right now. It’s frightening. And, to be clear, the frightening part is that many conservatives are dedicated to actively stopping progress at all costs. Their cause has become “Make Obama Fail!” America is in an ideological-cultural Civil War! I’m very worried for our country right now and it has nothing to do with our economy, wars, health crisis, or energy crisis. It’s about our country’s soul.

Here’s the very long FB discussion.

So, I could not sleep last night and decided to post a message (practically unedited):

Continue reading

Andy Goldsworthy #2

Shot these in my yard. I used HDR for extra color/vibrancy. I worship at the altar of Andy Goldsworthy. These are blatant copies of his methods.

Andy Goldsworthy copy #2
Andy Goldsworthy copy #2
Andy Goldsworthy copy #2
Andy Goldworthy copy #2
Andy Goldsworthy copy #2
Andy Goldsworthy copy #2

The rest are just normal shots, no special effects or human intervention. 🙂

Mushrooms in my yard
Mushrooms in my yard
My Inner Mushroom
My Inner Mushroom
My Inner Mushroom
My Inner Mushroom
My Inner Mushroom
My Inner Mushroom
My Inner Mushroom
My Inner Mushroom

Facebook: The Greatest Home Page Ever Created

I have little to add to the ever-changing Facebook story, but I gotta say it: Facebook’s current home page is the greatest home page ever created. Seriously, it is a thing of truth and beauty. I am deeply humbled by its perfection. No kidding. The ironic part is that their home page is probably not that important for growth. But, still….. wow.

FB's home page March 2009
FB's home page March 2009

Someone build this for me

Update: Looks to me that uservoice.com has built something close to what I need. Looking into it… 😉 [thanks to Garret for the ref]

For a very long time I’ve wanted a simple web-based mechanism to enable our customers to give us fresh feedback on features. It needs to include voting and the ability to collapse duplicate ideas together.  If done right (read: hard), the best ideas will float to the top.
feedback wiki idea

Did awesome kill cool?

cool (kūl)
adj., cool·er, cool·est.

  1. Neither warm nor very cold; moderately cold: fresh, cool water; a cool autumn evening.
  2. Giving or suggesting relief from heat: a cool breeze; a cool blouse.
  3. Marked by calm self-control: a cool negotiator.
  4. Marked by indifference, disdain, or dislike; unfriendly or unresponsive: a cool greeting; was cool to the idea of higher taxes.
  5. Of, relating to, or characteristic of colors, such as blue and green, that produce the impression of coolness.
  6. Slang.
    1. Excellent; first-rate: has a cool sports car; had a cool time at the party.
    2. Acceptable; satisfactory: It’s cool if you don’t want to talk about it.
  7. Slang. Entire; full: worth a cool million.

I recented posted thoughts on the word “awesome” and realized that a very similar phenomenon occurred around 1989 when I moved from Vancouver to California in 1989. I clearly recall that I heard people at Silicon Graphics using the word “cool”. And, it made me feel good. And so, right on cue, I noticed that I was using the word more often, and it made me feel good. The funny part is that I was addicted to the word “cool” in the 70’s–when I actually was slightly cool–and so it felt very natural to me to re-adopt an old friend.

Somehow the genes for “cool” were dug up by someone and reintroduced into the population in the late 80’s. I noticed “cool” grew with the same skyrocketing frequency as “awesome” did recently. Initially it was used by hip, younger types or artsy/techy intellectuals, and gradually spread out to the surrounding community, later getting to everyday America, and eventually getting time on our media (TV, radio, and film). Eventually, it sorta burned out as we became immune to it’s buzz. Just like a virus…

Since “cool” has proven that it is an effective virus/meme, I wonder how long it will take for it to come back with a vengence and spread it’s magic again.

Awesome!

awe·some (ôsəm)
adj.

  1. Inspiring awe: an awesome thunderstorm.
  2. Expressing awe: stood in awesome silence before the ancient ruins.
  3. Slang. Remarkable; outstanding: “a totally awesome arcade game” (Los Angeles Times)

Am I the only person who has noticed that the word “awesome” has permeated America to its core. I first noticed myself liking the word about a year ago and actively using it. It made me feel young and fun and positive. It felt really good to use the word. Then, I started to notice that I was using it a lot and tried to cut back. So, I reserved it for those truly special moments, maybe once or twice a day. But, I noticed that everyone else was using it a lot too. Now, I hear the word in practically every conversation!

The spreading of verbal memes (“awesome”) is an amazing epidemiological phenomenon that seems important somehow. It hints at larger cultural systems in play but just outside our individual perception. It touches on one of my favorite topics: emergent group intelligence. Of course, in this case, it’s probably more of a virus caught by the emergent intelligence (humanity), than useful intelligence.

And, of course, the meme itself appears life-like as it grows and spreads, and probably mutates. But, the one interesting observation that occurred to me is that the meme/virus does provide positive feedback to the individual: I feel good when I use the word. It’s a little embarrassing and revealing to admit it, but I do. And, I am sure that all of these verbal memes must have this quality to procreate. It would be really interesting to study these memes just as the CDC studies viruses and track their growth chronologically and geographically, learn how and why they spread, and eventually die, why some are successful and others fail, etc. Just not enough time in one life…

Has our democracy hit the wall?

I recently read a blog post by a friend that suggested that the USA should declare war on fossil fuel dependency.

Wow, I so agree with this idea and I think about this a lot and wonder WHY it does not happen. The easy conclusion usually hovers around conspiracy theories of Rich White Guys. But, I think that the lack of action on this, as well as other large-scale, slow-acting problems is a symptom of our government. Give me some room here… I’ve been watching and reading the recent John Adams book/mini-series and deeply engrossed on how America emerged as a democracy, etc. What a story! But, I’ve been thinking a lot lately that maybe we’ve hit the wall and that Big Business, Big Lobby, and Big Politics have learned to game the democratic system, and that maybe we need something new. Mainly to address the fact that these three constituencies are amost completely focused on Short-Term Gains (next quarter, next law, and next election). Thus, I am convinced that our version of democracy is coming to an end and new version that enables a longer-term view and policy to emerge. However, there is a very good chance that the US is incapable of such an change and that it will happen somewhere else (e.g. Europe) and this could be the eventual downfall of the great US and A………