Government Shutdown

In Canada, Parliament shutting down is now the norm. And why shouldn’t it be? In this majority government, there is no real discussion of ideas anyway. So the Prime Minister just removes any appearance of debate and shuts the place down. But this is certainly not as bad as America’s shutdown, as government services in Canada – national parks, Employment Insurance, scientific research, and taxpayer-funded partisan advertisements for economic programs that no longer exist – still function normally.

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Oh, and regular Nickelback visits.

But the shutdown in America is a different, more scary animal. It will cost the economy billions of dollars and it is resulting in a pretty major headache. But at least it’s for a good reason. Errrrr, maybe not.

The whole shutdown is due to an inability of Republicans (read: small, vocal, insane minority of Republicans) to accept the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. The ACA, which passed the House, the Senate, and was signed into law by President Obama, is now the law of the land. It was debated, discussed, and voted on. Obama made massive concessions to Republicans in order to get it passed, and many Democrats voted against it because of that. As a result, the ACA is a watered-down version of healthcare reform. But, still, it is better than the existing healthcare system.

But the major point here being this: the bill went through the democratic process, and it is now law. Healthcare reform was one of the major issues in the 2008 election, which saw Obama cruise to victory, and the ACA was also one of the major issues in the 2012 election, where the populace again gave Obama an easy win.

Never mind that the ACA went through the democratic process. No. The Tea-Party wing of the GOP is so obsessed with overturning the ACA that they forced a shutdown of the United States government.

And talk about picking your battles. This is the first shutdown in 17 years, and it is because the government is trying to give people healthcare benefits. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because it shouldn’t.┬áSure, there have been illegal wars and government-sanctioned torture programs, but let’s actually get mad because fewer people will go bankrupt due to healthcare costs. I mean, wow.

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The Tea Party claims to be super patriotic, but you really have to question their love of country. They couldn’t get their way in any legitimate or democratic means. So they are now holding the economy hostage in order to overturn a bill that has gone through the democratic process, and will provide more people who need it with healthcare. They want Obama to “negotiate”, but all they want is for their illegitimate demands to be met.

The GOP has no control over this faction, and it has now descended deep into absurdity and insanity. Every day is a new exercise in crazy, and everyone is dumber for having experienced it.

I trust that Obama will not give in to the Tea Party’s demands. He is not about to abandon healthcare reform just because a small group of weirdos have found a way to get weirder. And here’s the good news: people actually get it, and are blaming the GOP for this mess. Some polls suggest that Republican support is evaporating.

This pleases me, but not because I think the Democrats are doing a wonderful job and are full of bright ideas. Hopefully this can be a turning point for the GOP, and they can find a way to separate from the Tea Party. If the GOP returns to some normalcy, so too will the Democrats and so too will the country as a whole. But currently, a small, vocal, radical, and uninformed minority are driving the conversation, making us all worse off because of it.

Iraq: Ten Years Later

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. There is now near consensus on the mistake of the war, but too many people see the mistake as a tactical – not a moral – one. If only less Americans died, if only it wasn’t so expensive or if only more oil could have been secured at a good price – so the thought process goes – then surely the war would have been worth it.

To me, this again goes to show the way that money and economics have permeated every thought process. The ethics of war can’t even be discussed normally; the first point raised is usually about money. Even so-called “opponents” of the war, including politicians, only now stand in opposition to the war because of its exorbitant cost. There is no discussion on the legality or morality of the war, only that it was a financial error.

And when discussing lives lost in the war, there is very little concern for Iraqis. I understand that Americans and American media will tend to focus on the deaths of their own, but how is more than 100,000 dead Iraqis not all that relevant? Almost 5,000 Americans have died in the conflict, and this is obviously a terrible tragedy. The point, however, is that even if 0 Americans died, it shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion of whether or not the war was a mistake. Upwards of 120,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war, so that should really end the discussion there.

I am glad that nearly everyone now regrets the Iraq War. I just wish that that regret was based more on the 2003 decision to go to war, and not the changing circumstances in how the war played out. The war was built on lies and shaky legal precedents. It shouldn’t have mattered how many people died, how much is cost and how it affected America’s standing in the world. There should have been no support for it to begin with.

In 2003, I was a know-nothing high school student. But I knew enough to oppose the war. I knew that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had absolutely no relation to 9/11, despite what George W. Bush was trying to tell us. A simple Google search proved the president wrong. I knew that because Bush’s reasoning for the war changed after no WMDs were found, that there must be another reason for the war that the public was not being told. If it was actually because of WMDs, then finding no weapons should have led to an end to the war’s justification. But it didn’t. Bush changed the reasoning to one of regime change, which, if we consider the amount of worse regimes around the world, is a dubious reason at best. And I also knew that starting a war in the Middle East is not only a bad way to fight terrorism, but it would lead to more terrorist groups. Which it did.

I also knew that the war would cost a lot of money and that lives would be lost. But that wasn’t really the point in 2003. The war had no legitimate justification. Even as a malleable high school student, I could see through the president’s lies and know enough to oppose a pointless and harmful conflict.

The war was a moral, political, financial and strategic failure. But let’s remember that first and foremost, it was a moral failure.

Elections, Money and the First Amendment

There are many things wrong with American politics today. The electoral college, for one, is an outdated system that results in most of the electorate being completely ignored. If you’re from Ohio, your vote matters. Otherwise, the results are pretty well pre-determined.

But the electoral college pales in comparison to what I think is the biggest issue facing American democracy: money.

How could this be a problem?

Money makes America tick, but its influence in politics is corrosive and undemocratic. It is contrary to the principles of democracy that give every man and woman an equal voice in making the government. Put simply, billionaire Jamie Dimon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) has more sway in deciding who runs the government and what policies get approved (and not approved) than you or I.

Yeah, this guy.

With great irony, the United States Supreme Court ruled that money is speech. If this doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because it doesn’t.

Look, Americans take free speech very seriously. It’s a value that is enshrined in the First Amendment, and one that the country will never relinquish. Which is great. And this ruling I’m referring to (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) was basically an interpretation of the First Amendment. The case determined that money is equivalent to free speech and that it would be unconstitutional to limit corporate campaign donations. This is the same constitution that maintains that corporations are people, but I digress…

Okay, I can see it now.

I’m no Supreme Court judge or constitutional expert, but this makes no sense to me. Money is not speech. Speech is speech. All this ruling did was to make it nearly impossible to have any limit on campaign contributions. Corporations are free to influence candidates and parties as much as they want.

How does that defend free speech? The reality is simply that the wealthiest people and businesses can influence politics, but regular individuals can’t. That limits free speech if anything. It limits the power of the majority of people and gives even greater power, voice and influence to the wealthiest elite.

“Haha, poor people.”

The First Amendment’s defense of free speech was designed to ensure that no person’s opinion would be stifled. But that’s exactly what now happens in American politics. The concerns and opinions of regular people do not matter nearly as much as corporations. Money talks.

And it’s not difficult to see the result. Corporate welfare is higher than welfare for the poor, and the middle class pay a higher tax rate than the wealthiest class. It is also impossible to implement a sensical universal health care system. Obamacare is a start at least, but it is still a watered down version that gives way too much power to private insurance companies.

The influence of money in politics is undemocratic and, in my humble and unprofessional opinion, unconstitutional as well.