Saturday, August 22, 2009

Health Care Is Not A Right

I've thought about this occasionally, but only recently have I come upon what I believe is a truer expression of a liberal philosophy of health care.

The political argument is obvious: by calling health care a "right", you automatically justify guaranteeing coverage to everyone. By evoking a natural principle, you are fundamentally answering opponents by claiming that health care is a moral, not economic issue.

But this is not generally how we think of rights. We usually think of them as simple freedoms that require little in the way of effort on the part of others. Freedom of speech, movement, worship, or privacy all require little other than being left alone. Of course, the definition of a social contract includes the quality of living with others. Thus it implies a level of engagement with one's fellow man.

It is within this expansion into the social realm that the liberal inserts an added clause: duties. Duties are all the things we must do for one another to maintain our individual freedoms, or "rights". They are of course more difficult to define, much less to achieve. But they are as elemental to the provision of man's rights as the established state itself.

Throughout our nation's history we have defined them differently, as have other modern democracies: We reserve the right to draft men into military service to protect from foreign threats. We reserve the right to declare martial law. We reserve the right to tax income and commerce. We reserve the right to guarantee things like education or legal defense. Though at times they may be defined differently, they are the same in that they represent an expression of duty towards the common good. Each requires a level of sacrifice - often different depending on the individual - to the idea of the "common good".

Universal access to health care is now being called for by liberals. It is being argued that, by virtue of being a citizen (for many like myself, simply a human being) one should be guaranteed a minimum standard of free health care. Or to put it another way, it is the DUTY of every citizen of this country to contribute in some way to ensuring universal health care coverage to every man, woman & child.

Health care is a duty.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Understanding the Town Hollerers

I'm going to start off with a few assumptions: A) Most of these people are not idiots, B) Most of them are well-meaning and compassionate, C) Most are probably even politically moderate & D) My ideas are better than theirs.

OK - come on, who doesn't agree with that last one.

So, the question then becomes - why do they feel the way they so passionately do? On the basis of much of what I have heard, my hunch is that most of this isn't even specifically about health care. It is an amalgam of very high levels of federal spending, much of which has gone either to bank or auto bailouts, or nebulous future government projects. I think they have had no real problem with education, or war, or medicare, or moderate social spending in the past.

But they look at the dire straights the economy is in, and then see the government borrowing large amounts of money at a time when common sense tells you you need to cut back. They see Democrat health care "reform" as an added, luxury expense that at best we can't afford, and at worst will actually make their health care worse.

If they are neither dumb, mean, or even radical, then where are they coming from? Why can't they connect the dots they way that I do and end up agreeing with me? It all seems so obvious!

Well, except that I don't quite think it is. I think my ideas, while logical and sound, are actually quite radical. Well, let me rephrase that. I think they have potentially radical implications. Yet oddly enough, they are really no more radical than the ideas undergirding over a century of American political, social and economic thought. It is as if they have slowly, quietly been working away behind the scenes, providing the secure foundation from which popular American thought has flowered, yet through a sustained lack of analysis is now so forgotten as if to be unrecognizable.

The essence of this popular rage is simply a fear that government has gone too far. Those on the far right have always felt this. They have never believed in government. They would love to see its over-reach stripped bare. Their position is highly principled and logically very consistent.

But these town hall folks are not the radical right. They would hate to see government all but removed from public life. And yet much of their rhetoric matches exactly what the right has been shouting for years. Socialism! Fascism! Don't distribute my hard-earned wealth! This apparent oxymoron is best summed up by (as I have noted before) the purported words at a recent protest: Don't let the government get its hands on my medicare. One could add to this list schools, social security, roads, parks, clinics, etc.

They do indeed believe in the good that government can do, and has been doing, all their lives. But they have somehow been living in a fantasy world where the government actually doesn't exist. Elderly people magically don't starve to death alone in their apartments. Children are magically offered an education though 12th grade. Bridges repair themselves. Parks are tended to and medication for the mentally ill appears out of thin air.

Then suddenly the economy is on the brink of collapse, and the government roars in (supported mind you, by very well-developed and reasoned rationale) to help. I think for many this was a total shock. They had been living under all these assumptions about the modern world that are actually philosophically quite radical. When forced to make decisions based upon these views, they realized how radical they had become. Or better said, how radical the political mainstream had appeared to have become.

Because if government sponsored health care is socialism, then many more things are. If progressive taxation and social spending are fascist, well then our tax code has been very fascist for a very long time. I assume the radical (economic) right has indeed thought out the logical conclusion of their positions on a truly free market economy. That no one ever describes this future world is evidence of how removed it is from the mainstream.

For if we truly believed that each man was entitled to his own earnings, and was constitutionally (or by whatever higher-power you so presume) subject to only a minimum level of taxation, then America would be a radically different place. I've read amusing libertarian proposals for how things might look similar, owing to fabulous constructs involving great feats of heroics on the part of businesses who have somehow chanced upon perfect alignment of the public good with the private.

But in general no one is seriously proposing anything but minor policy adjustments. To listen to the rhetoric now being trumpeted from the town halls, one would think that Democratic representatives are the only things separating America from communist... err, USSR. Yet were any politician to campaign on a platform espousing policy positions in line with true free-market libertarianism, they would be laughed off the campaign trail.

Or would they? Maybe we have indeed, in the words of another recent town hall protester, "awakened a sleeping giant." Of course, this sleeping giant has truly been sleeping a very, very long time. In fact, I'm not sure it was every quite awake. At least not after accounting for the great social and technological transformations of the past 150 years which have enabled us to enjoy a level of common prosperity only dreamed of by the founders, and basic social safety nets have become not only possible but intrinsic to a modern, civilized ethos.

But it may possibly be that American politics is in for a dramatic swing to the extreme right, with the resulting dismantling of every state and federal social or common good program we have known and depended upon in our lifetime. I almost wonder, by the degree to which this sentiment is borne in stubborn hostility, that only such a transformation may be what it takes to show these people the world they intend to promote.

But, ever the optimist, I doubt it. I think the economy has people scared out of their wits. And they are being forced to digest in a matter of months political ideas which have been brewing in the Western world for centuries. It may have been wrong to try and push health care reform now. It may have been wrong to have relied on the ability of the American public to grasp all the philosophical and policy issues involved to the degree that that they would be able to fully appreciate the sensibility of the proposal's logical coherence.

We are, after all, Americans. What we lack in contemplation we make up for in feeling. I just worry that this all may be catching up with us. And that before we know it we will be forced to remove so much of what so many have worked so hard to build.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The New Racism

I'm troubled by where racism and the right is right now. Everyone knows racism is wrong. In theory. Certainly no one will admit to being racist. If accused, they always back way. Sometimes with legitimate excuses, yet sometimes not - their original conduct was clearly racist yet they still deny it.

This is very weird. I suppose many of them harbor these thoughts in private and just don't want to deal with the political/social/etc. fallout if they took public ownership. But then, many I suspect don't actually believe they are racist (they somehow know racism = bad) and thus genuinely back-peddle and make excuses for their behavior.

I imagine most modern racists fall into the latter category.
Even the white liberal friends of mine, who as liberals are more likely to have done the more complex listening & self-reflecting that begins the process of disentangling cultural prejudices and subconscious bias, still can't escape falling into crude stereotypes or the "other" mentality. I admit to a fair amount of it myself. In that sense we are all modern racists.

Although I think what is key is the continued acknowledgment of the problem - of how deeply embedded it is in our cultural frameworks. Fundamentally it is an admission that we are not perfect, that we are products of our environment, our natures. And our goal is to strive beyond.

Yet the anti-race racist, by reflexively denying his own human frailty (sin, as I think it has been correctly identified by mythological narrative) denies not only his own role, but fails to see it in others. This is a self-perpetuating cycle, as acknowledged evidence of racism in others implies it is still alive as a phenomenon, and thus possibly alive in oneself. Thus denying it in others helps to deny it in one's self.

Politically the right has all the reason in the world to downplay racism as a phenomenon. Every instance of it not only allows the possibility of their own racism, and their own frailty, but also discredits the purity of the American project, both evidenced in "direct" and "legacy" racism. Direct racism actively damages individual freedoms, while legacy racism builds disadvantage into entire communities through community dysfunction or inadequate resources.

As both are vehicles for social inequity, they present a niggling problem for the fundamental meritocratic assumptions of conservatism. Sure, minorities had a reason to be poor when discrimination was law. But now that it isn't, we can wash our hands of the whole problem and expect every man's success or failure to be his own. The existence of racism doesn't allow us to do this, as it is a social injustice that requires intervention. And how to better to do this than government decree.

Except you can't simply will racism out of existence. It requires social transformation, which takes time and effort - and most forcefully, government action. And until it is eradicated, you can't hold each man accountable for his lot in life. Those niggling demographic statistics on race and poverty, education, criminality, etc. are evidence of this.

This is the stuff of white privilege. And to a free market philosophy built on the assumption of every one starting with "their own bootstraps", privilege is really annoying! It throws the whole concept off. Free markets will always have winners and losers, which is a bitter pill to begin with. But it gets that much more bitter when most winners just happen to come from very different backgrounds than do the losers.

I'm still waiting for a conservative explanation for demographic success disparities. Appeals to free will would seem to predict relative random distribution of results year over year, yet there are an enormous number of very solid socioeconomic predictors.

Were I to be a conservative, I would be very concerned with making the playing field level so that my free market could run relatively equitably. How you do this without government intervention is beyond me. Their main line of argumentation right now seems to be that it has actually BEEN government intervention that has perpetuated inequity, via welfare, housing, education, etc. Which seems pretty ridiculous. Sure, these programs have their faults, but one wonders how the the alternative, a.k.a. doing nothing, amounts to anything more than wishful thinking.

Little Buckley

Andrew Sullivan posted this quote from William F. Buckley, Jr. on his blog Friday:

"I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth," from Up From Liberalism

My response:
As a liberal who has devoted my life to the cause of empowering the weak, whether be it delivering meals to people with AIDS in San Francisco, managing the medication for the Traumatically Brain Injured, mopping the floors for the sufferers of Schizophrenia, or now teaching science to low-income Hispanic children, I find Buckley's view deeply saddening.

For the fundamental truth I have discovered so far in life is that any power I possess is inseparable from the power of all of humankind before me, and all of its power to come. As the embodiment of all of our strengths and weaknesses, for me to claim ownership of any power is simply false. It is my one duty to find, to the best of my ability, the right balance between enjoying the experience of my own life, and contributing to the enabling of others to do the same.

We will likely never alleviate all inequality, nor suffering. (I sometimes laugh at the thought that were we to be truly concerned about suffering, we would endeavor to limit the suffering of the natural kingdom, possibly starting with the administration of anesthesia to sick or injured animals!) But what makes us human is our capacity for empathy - for compassion; for the ability to imagine life through the eyes of another. And it is through this profound gift that we come to realize that power does not come, as if by magic, into individuals. It comes to us though our culture, our health & welfare, our economy & technology, our education and tradition - from old to young throughout generations.

Any true conservative should recognize this. This is what our race has worked all of these years for. Not so that man can cower like a spoiled child in a sandbox, and say, "I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me." Instead, may he marvel at its glow and say, "I so cherish this power thus blessedly given unto me, that I will do all I can to spread it back out into this beautiful world so that everyone may one day experience its joy."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Efficacy Software, P. 2: Implementation

(part 1)
Once it is established that human achievement is a result of specific qualities in the individual that are both inherited and learned, which we may call Human Capital (HC), the challenge then becomes how to best develop social policy that facilitates its maximization across society. For if true freedom is the possibility of individual success, and individual success is the product of the sum of one's HC ( plus good fortune, which of course is an uncontrollable variable), then a society that values freedom must guarantee access to HC.

The great challenge then becomes developing a capable system of delivery. Much of this will be done organically, that is via natural human social and economic activity taking place in homes and neighborhoods. But if we are to truly endeavor to offer absolute freedom to very member of society, supplemental systems must be developed out of our common charter, which we of course call the "government".

This system will undoubtedly be multi-faceted, and composed of many different delivery subsystems and modalities. My focus here however, will be the applicability of free, internet-based training software, as it seems to present a viable, cost-effective delivery platform that is accessible, scalable, and sustainable.

To start with, here is no reason it could not be age universal; beginning with preschool, it could well extend to the elderly. Secondly, while a classroom curriculum could be developed, for use both in schools and community centers, logistic & financial challenges make this model less universally accessible. Although for many HC skills, a live and public environment would be ideal. Yet many HC skills could actually be better monitored and delivered via computer interface.

The first challenge is to properly identify the degree to which each element of HC impacts success, and then which offers the greatest possibility of delivery. Some elements will be enormously influential on success but difficult to deliver, while others easy to deliver yet of lesser value towards success. The overall challenge will be to examine the cost/benefit ratio, and determine what is the most effective use of what will always be limited resources. Into this equation must also come equitability considerations.

This chart is from a 2008 Australian study in which Socio-Economic Status correlated strongly with student test scores. On average, a 10 point increase in socioeconomic status scores is associated with a 6 percentage point increase in the pass rate.

It seems appropriate to examine social statistics to see what patterns emerge. It is reasonable to assume that income in general be tied to personal fulfillment, as it is generally the result of HC. However a software interface should be universally applicable to all groups. Certainly its use in the K-12 public education system would be used by students of all income levels, and built-in assessment and differentiation would scale to each student's HC level. However, when offered to the adult population, group targeting addresses both issues of cost and need.

Lower income communities, having less HC to begin with, can be assumed to have more limited access to computers and internet. Just as early telephone access necessitated government intervention, high-speed data lines may be a required component to fully implement a robust HC development campaign. As technology progresses, the provision of free, or low cost wireless notebooks may be a sensible option. To discourage fraud, they might be locked to an individual's government account.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Depression Suggestion

Yesterday I felt somewhat depressed. I had woken up with pretty intense pain - maybe a 5 or 6, which for me is above my normal 3 or 4. My thoughts also had begun to turn towards the impending return to school, the pressures of my boss and the daunting prospects of teaching something almost completely new. And my mood was altered.

I realized a common issue I agonize over when depressed is what might be "causing" it. I inevitably have been dwelling on some element of present dissatisfaction. These generally fall into the categories of neck pain, interpersonal or professional troubles. The neck pain I have generally come to understand as beyond my control - despite the poisonous notion in various circles that the original source of the pain is psycho-dynamic dissonance, its remedy being of course intensive self-reflection and scrutiny. (This is utter nonsense. While psycho-dynamics do exist, they only contribute to overall stress, which in turn exacerbates an underlying physical condition. The idea that they are themselves the root cause of physical pain is a deeply distressing invalidation.) To the extent that the physical pain promotes the depressed mood, I must simply carry on and make my peace with it.

And yet the interpersonal and professional troubles are not - in theory - beyond my control. There are legitimate concerns that, were they to be properly addressed, could cease to be a source of continued stress. The trouble is that in a depressive state, legitimate concerns become obscured by illegitimate ones. Perseveration is a frequent symptom.

Something interesting to note regarding the depressive mood is that it mirrors the mood that accompanies genuine loss. As with other disorders, such as anxiety, it may be true that the mind confuses a physiological reaction with a mental one. For instance, it is said that symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, rapid breathing, quickened pulse can actually trigger the onset of an attack, as if the mind associates these feelings with panic, follows its own fear of panic into real panic. With depression, could it be that the mind interprets the physiological experience of depression, similar as it is to a genuine state of loss, as requiring "justification", and thus inventing mental activities to recreate a similar experience. So while the body feels as if a loved one has just died, in reality there is no real mental anguish. Thus it is invented to create the illusion of unity between body and mind.

Unfortunately there often are reasons to experience some level of mental anguish. And frequently they are in fact the original stressors. Yet the problem is the degree to which they justify reasonable levels of anguish. While one may be justified in worrying about an upcoming job interview as it is important and performance is critical, feelings of depression would not be appropriate. And yet if this normal stress induces a depressive state, the mind is then faced with the cognitive dissonance of events not matching physiology, and introduces a sort of synthetic anguish. In this state, the rectification of causes for worry (Yes, I am qualified; No, they will not think I am too slovenly) will almost certainly not alleviate the depression. And so the mind often becomes even more determined to find some explanation for the mood, and turns up the volume, escalating the conflict.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My letter to the Legos company regarding their lack of girl-focused products

I am writing to let you know of the frustration I have experienced, as a parent, with your product selection. I am the proud father of two young girls, ages 2 & 4. My 4 year old has recently discovered the extreme joy and satisfaction of Legos.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of your products are either specifically geared towards boys (star wars, space action, indiana jones, etc.), or gender-neutral, but with a distinct bias towards boys (city, race cars & helicopters, etc.).

Strict gendering of toys is nothing new, and Lego has often been at the forefront of positive representations and role-models for children. But the reality is that girls are generally segregated to pink & purple "girlie" products. A perfect example of this is your Belville line.

Now, I'm not asking for miracles. But small steps could be taken to include more female oriented role-models and activities into your products. Women have entered the workforce in great numbers, and more "female" interests could be reflected in your product design - such as veterinary clinics, dance studios, hair salons (still not the most "empowered" role-models, but at least an expression of girl-friendly play).

I write all of this because it was with great sadness that, after the excitement building and playing with Legos at home, we took a trip to the local Toys R' Us and my daughter was quite saddened when faced with row after row of "boy" Legos. There were only two obvious "girl" items - the pink starter bucket and the small Belville doghouse. There were also few possible female options, such as the modern house and a few farm scenes, but they just didn't seem like they were really "made for her".

I speak not only as a parent, but as a credentialed Kindergarten teacher. I know the incredible educational power of Legos. Kids are developing their fine motor skills, numeracy, spatial awareness, cause and effect, problem solving, literacy (following the instructions), and many more skills. These are just the type of skills that future female math & science graduates need - and that are SORELY lacking in girl toys in general!

My daughter LOVES Legos - as do I - and I would really love to see a stronger attempt at the Lego company to develop more positive Lego products for girls. I want my daughter's daughters to feel the same sort of joy that I had as a child with Legos.

Thank you very much...

Efficacy Software, P. 1: The Context

Something occurred to me while reading an article recently on Autism Spectrum Disorders - specifically the characteristic difficulty in interpreting body language (the article was discussing the discovery that ASD was also correlated with low levels of oxytocin, a chemical linked with emotion and communication). I wondered whether or not there had been much in the way of software development using a computer interface as a form of ASD rehabilitation . It seems that as body language has to do with visual processing, there could be much to gain from developing software that allows the ASD user to interact with visual stimulus. The goal would be to address specific skills that could then be transferred to real world situations.

But it then occurred to me that this format could have much broader applications. I recalled a previous blog entry in which I tried to quantify individual modes of personal efficacy, the degree to which one possessed each would contribute to positive personal and inter-personal outcomes. I called them Human Capital (HC). We are all familiar with computer-based learning systems. Their development in early childhood education has been remarkable, especially with the advent of relatively cheap, flash-based applications widely available online. But so far much of the content has been driven by classic, knowledge-based content standards. Yet personal efficacy requires much more, for instance looking at interpersonal skills like communication & listening skills, situational awareness, social norms and psychological refection.

We know that individual success is largely dependent on the skill set of the individual, and in the event of misfortune, certain skills are key to resiliency. These skills are not always taught to the degree that they could be in the home, peer circle or neighborhood. Some individuals will come to them spontaneously via innate inheritance, others by good fortune or chance. Others will never learn them at all, but having come into good fortune in other areas, will never be forced to rely upon their attainment.

Social statistics tell us that behind the conviction that everyone can succeed lies a fatal caveat: those who possess the skills to succeed, will succeed. Implicit in this statement is the necessity for one to possess something. Things can either be known innately, or learned. The skills we are referring to here are not what are commonly thought of as skills, per say, but the personal traits, or Human Capital, that lead one to success. In my previous post on this topic I outlined them thus:

Emotional: happiness, satisfaction, compassion, generosity, self-control, ethics, integrity, confidence, courage, self-awareness

Knowledge Skills: reading, writing, math, music, art, dance, technology, mechanics, athletics, discipline, diet, hygiene, exercise

Knowledge Information: humanities, sciences, traditions, institutions, "perspective"
Social: language, protocols, empathy, self-awareness (perception of self by others)

Monetary: family income, family resources, neighborhood resources,
Biological: mental, physical, health

These are rough draft estimations, and in need of revision. But the fundamental premise is the quantification of those assets which reward the individual both external and internal success and fulfillment. Some skills will be unattainable for purely physical or logistical reasons, and no one will likely ever fulfill all of them. But if HC is what success is made of, then if one is to be free to succeed in life one must be free to attain it. If our society is to truly desire freedom for each of its citizens, then it must seek to enable for them access to this capital.

Some of this is already acknowledged by the presence of our public education system. But it was never tasked with what social research has told us its purpose now serves: to provide a level playing field of personal skill-development that guarantees freedom of success for all citizens. Public schooling was thought of as a healthy benefit to a modern society - a project supplemental to the family and other social forces conspiring to shape a person's full expression, not the least of which was supposed to be the individual's own "free will" and judgment of action. Yet now, as social trends have been studied and successful outcomes have been tied to reliable indicators, education has become ever-more the final frontier of humankind's goal of social justice and freedom.

And of course it is failing. Those students who succeed do so because of two things: either good fortune or because they have at some point (including before birth) acquired sufficient levels of HC. Many children are fortunate in that they are able to acquire it outside of school. But for many children, school has become society's sole means to provide this HC. Yet the time spent at school is simply not enough to provide sufficient supply. For a variety of reasons, including funding & resources, socio-economic geographic logistics, and degree of parent HC, schools are forced to watch asthmatically as generation after generation of students is respired through their doors.

If that HC is required is not in dispute, then the problem simply becomes how to best ensure that every American achieves their maximum, and at the very least a guaranteed minimum. A corollary structure to this argument is the implication that those who have succeeded have done so due to a relative privilege of HC, and thus hold moral claim to the fruits of such success only to a degree over and above what society deems a base equitable distribution of HC resources. That is to say, only once sufficient policies have been put into place that guarantee a reasonable distribution of Human Capital may individuals be allowed to enjoy greater HC privilege benefits, being as they are circumstantially derived.

There is of course great leeway in how strictly this would be implemented. As comprehensive metrics on both how to measure individual HC attainment as well as its impact on success becomes more and more difficult moving from macro to micro level. Depending on the degree to which one is comfortable establishing arbitrary policy determinations based on certain metrics, a redistributive structure could be arranged via various progressive taxation structures, or some other methods of equitabilitization.

This has been the incision point for traditional arguments against any sort of interventionist, progressive economic policy. These have fundamentally revolved around an appeal to the concept of individual freedom of will, and that its existence renders unjust any attempt to limit the individual's right to enjoy the benefits of one's success, based as it is not on the HC model, but on the assumption of a theoretically infinite capacity for creative control over one's destiny, unencumbered by biological or social privilege. In addition - according to these arguments - any attempt to rectify an imbalance in HC by the government would only make matters worse, due to the inefficiency inherent in government action. Far better be it to allow the invisible hand of the free market to provide sufficient lubrication for individual success.

But the HC model denies such claims. Its inherent assumption is that success is created solely from HC, as is any possible definition of something one could call free will. So any society interested in the promotion of freedom must answer first to how it promotes HC. Second, many elements of HC acquisition are not only not commodities, and thus untradeable on a free market, but in cases where they might be, like any market items their purchase requires capital to begin with. And due to the nature of HC's relationship with wealth creation and success, the degree to which one lacks HC will limit one's ability to bargain! And so while government action, with its guarantee of access, may not necessarily enjoy the benefits in efficiency and innovation that come from a competitive free market, if one considers the principle of individual freedom paramount, and human freedom predicated upon the equitable attainment of HC, then it must have a significant role in its provision.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Response from State Senator Benoit on Marijuana Taxation & Taxes

I sent Senator Benoit a suggestion that, especially considering California's desperate need for tax revenue, he ought to vote to legalize marijuana and then tax it. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response from either him or one of his staffers, although it seems pretty well addressed to my original letter. My response to his argument is that A, I'm not sure it really is a gateway drug. And that even were it to be, the real gateway drug is social inequity that allows kids to turn to drugs in the first place instead of more successful endeavors. Which, ironically, my vision for social programs (such as education, counseling or teen centers) paid for by a marijuana tax would end up paying for. If marijuana was the real cause of teen failure to succeed, it would be a zero sum game. But it obviously isn't.

Thank you for your correspondence expressing support for Assembly Bill 390 (Ammiano), which would legalize the possession, sale, and cultivation of marijuana by persons 21 years of age and older and would set up a wholesale and retail marijuana sales regulation program.

While I appreciate your point of view, I cannot in good conscience support this legislation because I do not believe in the decriminalization of marijuana. It is a gateway drug and encouraging its use would only lead to more people trying and abusing harder and more dangerous drugs.

Additionally, your argument that there would be tax revenue generated from the sale of marijuana may be true but the amount of revenue raised would not necessarily offset the cost to society. Indeed, the same argument could be made about many currently illegal activities, but legalizing them would not mean those activities would be good for society as a whole.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. While we do not agree on the merits of this bill, please do not hesitate to contact me in the future regarding other legislative issues of concern to you. It is an honor to serve you in the California State Senate.



Senator, 37th District

Monday, August 3, 2009

Political Divide

We're all familiar with the basic liberal and conservative positions: liberals = government programs & equality, conservatives = business & individual responsibility. But there are nuances to these basic ideas, and they have definitely evolved over time.

I've been struck lately at how seemingly stubborn and dogmatic conservatism has become, especially since Obama took office. If you look at what this diagram says about what each ideology emphasizes, and compare it with the political rhetoric we've been hearing, it's notable that conservatism has taken a much harder tack to the right, while liberalism has moved considerably towards the center.

The diagram offers 3 political position emphases: philosophical emphasis , emphasized mechanism for obtaining it, and its emphasized threat. The extreme version of right and left would accept little or no cross-over, while the moderate would accept a good deal, while retaining the original emphasis.

Notice how the modern, mainstream liberal position is one of great moderation. The extreme position would be entirely opposed to business, with government running the economy, i..e communism. But most liberals today are indeed very opposed to the government running any sector of the economy. Theirs is a mixed economy, or "an economy of the gaps", where business is sometimes regulated, but allowed to prosper, while the government fills in needed services the market is unable to provide adequately. Much of this position is due to the recognition of the massive failures of communism, and the many benefits of responsible business.

Yet modern, mainstream conservatism is very extreme. Government is constantly railed against, and would preferably stay out of the economy all together. The common good is something of an afterthought, as a sort of social darwinism places the fate of the individual squarely at his own feet. It is in many ways utopian, as it consistently posits an "if only" situation in which society would reach a state of grace in the absence of social planning, and at the whim of the individual. In other words, any problems we see today are the fault of government or the individual's lack of merit.

Strangely, much is made of future scenarios of government dominance - "socialism" - yet the multitude of accepted government programs in existence today are never mentioned. This sentiment is supremely expressed in the recent news item in which an angry man stood up at a town hall meeting and declared "Don't let the government get its hands on my medicare!" Other "socialist" programs such as public schools, mental health clinics, parks or libraries would seem to be logical enemies as well but they are never mentioned.

In short the biggest difference between modern liberalism and conservatism today seems that conservative fear of government is extreme, while liberal fear of business is not.