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You Don’t Live in a Bubble

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I work in the pharmaceutical field. It’s not my career of choice, but in this economy any job is sacred. Specifically, I refill people’s nebulizer breathing medications. Not all, but a good portion of my patients got to where they are by ruining their lungs with years of smoking. Now Medicare is paying for their expensive treatment. It is their body and they can do whatever they want to it.

Earlier this year, I lost my uncle to lung cancer. We weren’t close, we hadn’t even spoken since my Grandfather’s funeral almost 10 years prior. But, now my cousin doesn’t have a father, my dad, aunt and uncle don’t have their sibling, and my grandmother had to bury her son. It was his body and he could do whatever he wanted to do.

This post isn’t meant to be a diatribe against smoking, although I think that would be meritous. My purpose is to use the social ill of  smoking to poke some holes in Libertarian theory.

There’s a phrase I like to use to describe cavalier libertarianism: “I can do whatever I want, even if its the wrong thing to do.” To me, this pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with libertarianism, especially the right-wing, individualistic, objectivist version. Capital L Libertarianism, as I’ve seen it called. The libertarianism associated with the modern Libertarian political party. You may not believe this, but I am a proponent of personal responsibility. I go to work every day, feed and clothe my children, and pay as many bills as I can on my salary. But personal responsibility has become a code word for Randian isolationism, Objectivism, a philosophy I whole-heartedly oppose.

For me, personal responsibility must include how my actions effect those around me, and society as a whole. Anything short of that, looking out for myself at the expense of others, should be called personal irresponsibility.

Libertarians, Randians and modern conservatives see themselves as living in a bubble. They fail to see how greater society benefited their own good fortune, or how their actions can negatively affect others. It can be difficult to argue against this view, as it seems to make sense on a very basic level. But the world is complex and inter-connected. Direct lines are hard to draw. When society functions properly, it is not apparent, but below the surface.

So let’s look at how “Its my body and I can smoke if I want to” fails the personal responsibility test:

  • Tobacco is grown in some of America’s richest farmland. That land is not used to grow food, driving up food prices.
  • Billions are spent in Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance on preventable, smoking related illnesses. This threatens the solvency of our public health systems, and raises premiums on everyone’s private policies.
  • Second hand smoke poisons the air for non-smokers.
  • Greedy tobacco companies get rich by poisoning their customers.
  • Greedy pharmaceutical companies get rich off of the illnesses of their customers. (Yes I’m aware that I personally benefit from this, and I am actively trying to change that.)
  • People have to bury their loved ones and suffer through cancer and other illnesses that could have been completely prevented.
  • Much much more.

So you can see how the irresponsible choice to smoke negatively impacts every other person in this society. Also, the rest of society (Medicare, Medicaid, insurance pools etc.) positively benefit the individual smoker. You can use this as a model for many different issues. Of course, some actions have more and farther reaching impacts than others, but remember, you’re never in a bubble, and you are responsible for how your actions affect others. Responsibility, for yourself and others, is an integral part of freedom.

Written by mattmitchellkc

June 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Absence

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I quit this blog a few months ago for a couple of reasons. First, I went from zero jobs to two, so I didn’t have time and second, the quality of work was well below what I had hoped for. But I have some things to say so I’m back for now.

Written by mattmitchellkc

June 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Flood Gov. Walker’s mailbox with thousands of $32 checks (not just from Wisconsinites).

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Have you seen this video?

jwinkle01 really lays it out there. $32 per adult and the fiscal crisis in Wisconsin is solved. The right is saying “we can’t afford” public unions, but at less than the cost of taking a family of 4 our for dinner, “Yes We Can.”

Many of us are stuck in other locations wishing we were in Madison (or Columbus or Indianapolis; Wherever else this movement is spreading like wildfire).

There are things we can do. We can Support the WI Democratic Senators or feed the protesters.

These are worthwhile endeavors for sure, but what if we solved the financial crisis.

Imagine flooding Scott Walker’s office with thousands, no millions of checks, for $32 a piece.

Edit: Here’s the address.

Written by mattmitchellkc

February 22, 2011 at 3:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Have we become a Nation of Barney Stinsons?

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There’s a funny scene in How I Met Your Mother where we learn that Barney roots for the blonde kid in The Karate Kid. Later on we find out that he often roots for the villains in film.

Barney Stinson, played with brilliant abandon by Neil Patrick Harris, is everything that’s wrong with the world. He’s materialistic, egomaniacal and a womanizer. He works for Goliath National Bank, a giant bank (read: Citi or BoA) that makes the world a worse place every day, and he loves every second of it (unlike his friends, who work there, but have serious moral objections in doing so). He’s the anti Homer Simpson.

It’s natural that he would completely misinterpret the sentiment of most films.

But Barney’s character is so funny, because he’s so true. He represents a reality in today’s society. We worship folks like Trump, the Kardashians and others who are only famous for being too rich. We honestly say, out loud, that rich people are rich because they deserve it, and it’s poor people’s fault that they’re poor.

We have a greater income gap than any time since the Great Depression, but we elect politicians who feel that workers, union or not, have too much, but CEOs and businessmen who, who get rich on the backs of the poor, don’t have enough. We would shut down the government just to avoid forcing the rich to pay slightly higher taxes. We allow Republicans to control the political narrative. “Business is good, workers are bad.”

We worship wealth, but decry poorness.

We root for Ebenezer Scrooge, not Bob Cratchit.

We root for Henry Potter, not George Bailey.

We root for Bill Lumbergh, not Peter Gibbons.

We have lost our minds. We have lost our sense of what is right and what is wrong. We have lost our sense of good versus evil. Up is down, the sky is red and water’s dry.

Luckily, there are some of us who are standing up for what’s right. And maybe, just maybe, all this is the start of something good. Maybe the people will grab some of the power that we deserve, and we’ll look back on 2011 as the start of a world wide change for the better.

But we had to let them push us to the brink first. We had to buy into their garbage. We had to let them chip away at our health, wealth and well being. We had to get to a point where crazy idiots like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh actually get their views repeated as facts.

It never had to have been this way.

I’m a Bad American

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I start my new job next week. I’m not looking forward to it. I had to take what I can get. I’ll be a desk jockey in a call center. I’ll make $11 per hour, get 8-10 hours per week of overtime, and a bonus that caps out at $500 per month.

It’s not much money, but that’s not why I don’t really want the job. I’d gladly take less money to do what I love, but right now, I need the money, and more importantly the health insurance. The premiums will take about $300 per month out of my pre-tax income, which means I’ll be taking home less money than I did on unemployment, but that’s okay because the insurance is important.

I live in a modest house in Kansas City in what most people would consider to be the hood. I love it up here though, we have Cliff Drive, Budd Park, Gladstone Boulevard and most importantly, Taqueria Mexico! Mmm! People walk their dogs, jog and hang out on porches. It’s nice. We’ve even befriended many of our neighbors!

We bought the house a year ago with an FHA loan and the Homebuyers Tax Credit. I’m thankful for both of these wonderful government programs.

I have a pair of shitty cars: A 12 year old Taurus that’s seen better days, and a 2 year old Aveo that I got new for a smoking deal.

I have a laptop and a 32″ plasma TV, both of which I won as incentives at one of my previous jobs. Hey, I’m a good worker, what can I say. After that our biggest asset is our Wii60.

Other than that, we don’t have much. Our biggest expenditure after the mortgage and utilities is a Karate membership for my wife and stepson. We don’t even have cable.  We go out to eat a couple of times per week, which stretches our meager budget.

I have too much, more than I deserve. We eat our fill, have clothes on our backs, and have a wonderful place to call our own. We’re better off than 99% of the rest of the population on Earth. Most of my success can be attributed to circumstance. I was born in America. I’m white. I have a family who raised me.

I have no aspirations for more. I don’t like fancy clothes, I don’t like fancy cars, my wife, thankfully, has no use for expensive jewelery. I graduated in May, and have yet to find work in my field, but I would have to take a low paying entry-level job if I did. Like I said before, I’d gladly do it. Jump at the chance. I have no lust for money.

A few times in my prior lives, I’ve made an attempt at entrepreneurship. I failed miserably. It’s not that I didn’t have the drive, I worked extremely hard. But I didn’t have the acumen. I’m a terrible salesman, an inept bookkeeper. I choose fields where there’s too much competition or not enough demand. I’m just not a businessman.

So I’ll never “get ahead.” And that’s okay with me.

But that’s not American. America means that you try to get all the money you can possibly get your hands on. And when you get that money, you get more. It’s our moral obligation as Americans to have more than anybody else, even if our neighbors are starving. Fuck them. It’s their fault that they’re poor. Even if they do work three jobs.

I should dream big. I should strive for a McMansion and a Lexus, as a stepping stone to my Bugatti and Castle. My wife should have a diamond on her finger instead of the silver piece she has. I should be wearing Armani instead of Target brand.

There’s no place in America for people who want to live a modest, decent lifestyle. There’s no place for people who want to see wealth and economic opportunity spread across classes, and not limited by borders. And there’s no place in America for people who don’t want to see the least of us go without, so that I may have more.

I am a bad American.

Written by mattmitchellkc

February 19, 2011 at 4:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Constituesday – Article I (Part 1)

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Welcome back! This is the second edition of Constituesday, our weekly series exploring the U.S. constitution from historical and contemporary perspectives. With knowledge in our pockets, we can combat willful ignorance and purposeful deceit.

Here is the link to last week’s first edition: Constituesday – Preamble.

In today’s edition, we tackle Article I, concerning the legislature.

I’ve gone ahead and made the executive decision to split Article I into two sections. Firstly, the thing is just long, its three times longer than any other article or amendment at least. Secondly, I really want to get into the Enumerated Powers in detail. If I did Article I in one post, I’d have to skim over stuff, and I don’t want to do that.

So for today let’s take a look at Article I, sections 1-5. Sections 6-10 next week. Here’s some info: http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Article1

There was a great deal of debate at the Constitutional Convention about how to structure the legislature. Both the large, southern, slave states and the small, northern non-slave states had a lot at stake. James Madison‘s Virginia Plan supported proportional representation, while William Paterson‘s New Jersey Plan called for equal representation.

In today’s political climate, things probably would have broken down, or one side would have stomped their feet or kicked and screamed until nothing got done. But the framers, in their wisdom, developed the Great Compromise and America’s ingenious bicameral legislation was born.

There were bicameral proposals before the compromise, but the differences between the houses involved electoral procedures, not representation levels. Roger Sherman proposed the Connecticut Compromise and, in the spirit of get it done, and to the betterment of all, the United States House of Representatives and Senate were born.

Section 1

All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

This is the vesting clause. It basically just says that Article I will grant the legislative powers to the congress, and names the houses.

Section 2

The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.

This clause has been highly amended. At the time of the writing of the constitution, the states chose who could vote in national elections, but the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth amendments have expanded voting rights to blacks, women, blacks and 18 year-olds. (Yes, they had to amend the Constitution twice to ensure equal voting rights for blacks, but we’ll get into more detail in further weeks, when we explore the amendments.) We vote for the entire House every two years.

No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.

If you’re 25, a U.S. citizen for 7 years or more, and you live in the state you represent (not necessarily the district you represent) you can serve in the U.S. House. Congress can use no other reason to deny your seat in Congress, as decided in Powell vs. McCormack.

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct. The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one Representative;

There’s a lot here. The size of the House, the Census and the Three Fifths Compromise.

The history of the size of the House is a little wonky and clunky, but one thing is for sure; We have less representation today than we ever have before, and as long as the U.S. population grows, that trend will continue.

Faced with an ever growing House, congress passed Public Law 62-5 which caps the House at 435 members. Less populous states have smaller districts, and therefore more Representatives per person. The 1-30,000 minimum isn’t even close. Most of us live in districts with almost a million people or more.

This clause of the Constitution also establishes the U.S. Census. Isn’t it funny how the Tea Party and ultra-libertarian types claim to be pro-constitution but are actually anti-Census? Well you can’t have it both ways. The U.S. Government uses the Census not just for enumerating House districts, but to collect a swath of other demographic information. Without this information, the government would have no way of knowing who it’s populace was, and would be forced to govern them blindly. Since World War II, the Census’ information has been kept private, even from other government agencies.

If the Connecticut Compromise is known as The Great Compromise, then the Three Fifths Compromise should be called The not so Great Compromise, or the Really Bad Idea for $100 Alex.

After the Great Compromise, the southern delegates in Philly saw their numerical supremacy threatened. The Senate already had equal representation amongst the states, and, without counting slaves, the proportional representation in the House wouldn’t favor them as much as they’d like either.

The south wanted to hold slaves, deny them their humanity and citizenship, but count them as people for purposes of representation in the House. More cake-and-eat-it-too logic.

And it worked too, for a while, as southern politics dominated in Washington. Why do you think so many early presidents were Virginian?

The Three Fifths Compromise sewed the seeds for the inevitability of southern secession and the Civil War.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any state, the executive authority thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.

Special elections replace Representatives, arranged by the Governor.

The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.

This established the Speaker of the House, America’s second most powerful political figure. The speaker holds enormous political sway, and the majority party in the House holds a lot of power. It also grants the House the power of impeachment, which we’ll touch on more in Article II.

Section 3

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.

This lays out the equal representation from the Great Compromise, and the six year term.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in consequence of the first election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three classes. The seats of the Senators of the first class shall be vacated at the expiration of the second year, of the second class at the expiration of the fourth year, and the third class at the expiration of the sixth year, so that one third may be chosen every second year; and if vacancies happen by resignation, or otherwise, during the recess of the legislature of any state, the executive thereof may make temporary appointments until the next meeting of the legislature, which shall then fill such vacancies.

This lays out the staggered election system. We elect approximately one third of the Senate every two years. It also gives Governors the power to appoint replacement Senators. (The 17th Amendment changed this, and now different states have different replacement policies.)

No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

The qualifications for Senators are more strict than those of the House, but are also exclusive.

The Vice President is given his only constitutional duty here, as Senate tie-breaker and sitting Senate President. No actual Vice Presidents actually do this constitutional duty. John Adams did, but since his time, the Vice Presidency has become primarily an Executive branch position.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of the President of the United States.

This President Pro Tempore is the person who does the actual “President of the Senate” duties, as the V.P. is most always absent.

The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.

Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.

The House has the power of impeachment, but the Senate has the trial, and two-thirds supermajorities are needed for conviction.

Section 4

The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

Election Day! Congress has, by law, made Election Day the first Tuesday in November, and Congress no longer begins its session in December. In 1787, it could take weeks by horse-trailer to get from one’s home to the Capital city. Plus, there weren’t professional politicians, so Congress was considered a part-time job. Laughable by today’s standards.

Section 5

Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.

Rules. This is where things like filibusters, secret holds, committees and other soul-crushing, cynicism-educing, sausage-making procedures stem from. Congressional rules of order, especially those in the Senate, were inspired by, though not identical to, British Parliamentary Procedure.

The Senate’s rules give the minority party (or faction) more power than in the House (remember the powerful Speaker). James Madison’s Federalist #10 influenced this arrangement, though Howard Zinn says that, in actuality, everyone was scared shitless of another Shays Rebellion.

This clause also provides each house the opportunity to expel a member.

Each House shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the members of either House on any question shall, at the desire of one fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.

The congressional record can be accessed here: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/index.html Great for journalists and Poli-Sci majors.

Neither House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

There is a difference between adjourning, and “adjourning.”

Okay that’s the first half of Article I of the U.S. Constitution. A lot of it is technical and procedural, and not so much political. But the history of, and ramifications of the compromises of the Constitutional Convention, forthcoming voting rights amendments, three fifths debacle and the Census make for a wealth of information and governance.

Next week we’ll get into sections 6-10, separation of powers and enumerated powers and junk. It’s going to be a whole heck of a lot of fun! See you then!

Written by mattmitchellkc

February 8, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Des Moines Register Forgets Reagan’s Devastation of Iowa

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I couldn’t let today’s glowing Des Moines Register Reagan retrospective go unrebutted.

Here is the link: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20110206/NEWS/102060348/Reagan-s-impact-on-Iowans-and-Iowa-s-influence-on-him-can-t-be-underestimated-

Now, it seems that the Register wanted to do a nice piece about a former president on his 100th birthday.

But by showing the impact Reagan had on the Iowa Republican Party, and ignoring his reaction (or lack therof) to the farm crisis, and the hard times Iowa went through during the 1980’s, they are disserving the very state they represent, and adding to the revisionist history that paints Reagan as the greatest thing that every happened to America.

I am the grandson of an Iowa corn farmer. My grandfather was fortunate to make it through the 1980’s farm crisis without losing the family farm where my father’s family grew up.

But many thousands of others weren’t so lucky.

Now, Reagan didn’t cause the farm crisis. There were many factors at play including shrinking export markets and higher interest rates, not all of which can be attributed to the Reagan administration. Never the less, Reagan drug his feet in response to the crisis. His laissez-faire attitude let it fester. He figured the free market would take care of it.

And it did. The free market caused Willie Nelson to stage a concert. Because that’s what we want from our government, to sit idly by while our country crumbles, and let celebrity fund-raisers solve all of our problems. That’s the free market way!

Well, of course Farm Aid wasn’t nearly enough to solve any of the problems.  Government intervention could have staved off many bankruptcies and foreclosures. Many family farms could have been saved.

But that would have been compassionate. That would have been the right thing to do.

Of course the farm crisis never truly ended. Few farmers nowadays are willing to risk their livelihood and their family’s security to the whim of the financial jet set. Corporations swooped in and bought up all the farmland, and the family farmer, the staple of the American agricultural tradition, died.

The man who currently lives on my grandfather’s family farm doesn’t own it. He sold off the land, plot by plot, and now he farms the land for the benefit of absentee landlords. My grandfather’s pride would have been crushed by such a situation.

Farming isn’t the only negative impact the Reagan Revolution had on Iowa.

I grew up in Des Moines in the 1980’s. Terry Branstad, a Reagan Republican, was governor. It was a crumbling remnant of a city. A few corporations like Principal and Ruan made out like bandits, and their skyscrapers dominate the skyline today. 

But the common man was left behind.

My father, a skilled and experienced tool and die technitian, endured a series of layoffs and struggled to eek out a living. Firestone, the primary employer of the working-class north side used a decades long string of layoffs and labor disputes to send a crushing local depression throughout the north side.

Since the mid 1990’s, under two successful Democratic Governors and a new-found partnership between public and private interests, (gasp!) Des Moines revitalized itself.

The downtown interstate loop was completely redone, complete with new exit ramps and overhead bridges.

A new Science Center and Arena were constructed.

The Papajohn sculpture park was created. Private gifting followed the city mandating the park space in a formerly depressed area.

Principal and the city partnered for a new riverwalk along the Des Moines River. (Then took all the credit and naming rights!)

The East Village, a former abandoned warehouse district near the State Capitol Building, is now a hip and trendy spot for nightlife and young artists.

And more.

These are all examples of a progressive, modern public/private partnership. It represents the antithesis of the conservative, “government is bad” meme. And it created a vibrant, world-class city, where before there was none.

But Iowa got tired of two decades of progress and reelected the guy who oversaw the deterioration and brought in the hard times. I’m sure America would reelect the corpse of Reagan if they could. Where would we be then?

Edit 02-06-11: Principal Park was rebuilt, by city bond, in 1992. So I removed it from my bullet list of Des moines revitalization. Also fixed some typos

Written by mattmitchellkc

February 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Economics, Media, Politics

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