Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Criminal Libertarian Mind

Happy Holidays!

   It's that magical time of year when we, as Americans, celebrate hyper-consumption and the miracle that is "online shopping". At least, I know that I am personally celebrating the miracle of online shopping. Why? Well, it may be the best example of the theory that competition drives prices down. Of course, it's also the best example of how limited regulations, or difficult-to-enforce regulations, make it more likely that you will be disappointed in your purchase. Disappointed with the quality, the delivery, the service or even the total ripoff and destruction of your credit rating and ability to make future purchases. It's that last item that has always prevented me from immediately hopping on the keyboard in search of the best "deal" on something electronics-related. But this year, I discovered the "Visa Gift Card".
   "Ding Dong"...I just answered the door and lo and behold, my Postal Delivery Person just handed me the weekly RedPlum, the first of many tax return documents to come and a small package. Only 4 days ago, I made my first-ever online purchases. I received three items purchased from two websites in 4 days and paid no shipping fees. One item, a package of three USB data/charger cables for an old Cect i9 (iPhone clone I got for free), was unavailable in any store. It's a clone, but they changed the data port to avoid patent/copyright law. Anyway, a price comparison is irrelevant, but they ARE very cheap. I got 3 of them for $7.98 and they all work. I powered up the clone for the first time in 3 years and it was like opening a time capsule. "So this is what I wasn't missing". Needless to say, technology has advanced quite a bit and so have the clones. But it puts to rest that nagging feeling that I had. The feeling that a free iPhone was sitting in my desk drawer and it's been well-worth the $7.98 to bring that to a conclusion! I'll stick with my Gravity Smart after all.
   But the other items I purchased, I was able to make "in-store" and "online" price comparisons. I suppose I could have actually listed prices with the sellers, but I'll generalize because that's quite sufficient and a heck of a lot easier. I bought two laptops off of Craigslist and decided to get extended capacity batteries for both. The lowest prices I could find for immediate pick-up were $129.98 and $119.99. After just a few hours of online comparison-shopping (and no gasoline), I purchased the batteries for $37.34 and $30.83 respectively. Both qualified for free shipping if I was willing to wait 7-10 days. Now that I've received all three items at least three days earlier than expected and they all work as expected, I'm feeling pretty good about online shopping. And the beauty of the Gift Card? Not once was my birthdate or Social Security number or even checking account number involved in any way. I could order the items under any name if I chose to do so. Which is really awesome!
   Of course, I couldn't help but give this anonymous aspect a bit further thought. Where there's the potential for anonymity, there's usually a high probability of some kind of criminal opportunity. My first thought was money laundering and/or passing counterfeit bills. Then I got to thinking..."what happens to all those small ending balances?". The average Gift Card recipient probably doesn't spend down to the last penny. In fact, it's discouraged. If you use the card as "partial payment", you must tell the cashier prior to payment and identify exactly how much the card is worth. That's not a huge hassle if you're wired in by smartphone and a good data plan, but for most people the last two or three dollars are more than likely going to be tossed into the ether along with a few candy bar wrappers.
   As I was driving along the river, I couldn't help but imagine that somewhere, someone is developing code to skim ending balances. What kind of criteria would be important? Hmm, the age of the card. The card should be at least three months old. The balance should be kept low...even at pennies for the first few skims. But eventually, I'm thinking up to $3.00. Most people would assume some kind of hidden fee had gobbled up three dollars and just pass it off. If you want to write the best code, include some kind of official fee title to the transaction and plug in the last vendor's name as the issuer of the fee. I'm not suggesting I have any idea how much money could be skimmed this way, but I'll venture a guess that if the database for these cards were accessed, it would amount to a "whole lot". Just imagine if there were no regulations regarding secure databases and securing private information? But hey, I've got some good ol' fashioned "common sense" from the Libertarian that resides in all of us to some degree.
   "Who really gets hurt?". In the above scenario, the cardholder may not even know the money exists, or even care. The card is either lost in the sock drawer or buried in a landfill, right? And if the cardholder doesn't take the issue to court, do they really "own" that money? Who's money is it? The card issuer's? Maybe it's in the agreement (of course it is), but from a principled perspective, do they "really" own that money? Isn't the final decision in the hands of the cardholder where those last few dollars end up? See? It should be perfectly legal for me to take that money and if there's a dispute, take it to the Justice System! That's a MUCH better system!
    It might seem like a weak argument, but if you really think it gets weaker. But if you remove the ability of the Federal Government to establish any laws regulating e-commerce and go for that "economic freedom" line of malarkey, it starts to make perfect sense!
   In the final analysis, I highly recommend going the Gift Card route if you're a bit paranoid about online purchases. My first experience has been a stunning success in savings and satisfaction. The really cool part? I retrieved my ending balance from my "Manage Your Giftcard" page and I made another donation to the President's campaign...right down to the last cent.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's All Fun and Games Until Romney is Elected

   I was on my usual Saturday morning drive listening to the Stephanie Miller Show. The turning leaves have hit their peak in brilliance and on this particular morning the Stephanie Miller crew was equally brilliant. Of course, the material offered up by the Republican Primary Debates has given many comedians a golden opportunity to put their comedic acumen on full display. But somewhere between "Gropey-Changey" and a stand of Red Autumn Maples, I was struck with the reality that eventually the silliness of the GOP will give way to a bare-knuckled political bout between Mitt Romney and his VP selection versus our President Obama and VP Biden.
   In a matter of hours, from the time I wrote down my simple intro to the topic at 7 in the morning, the Romney campaign has gained tremendous momentum. Newt Gingrich is unlikely to attack Mitt Romney, but that really is the X factor right now. Tea Party "rock" and anchor, Rep Cynthia Lummis from Wyoming, is scheduled to announce her endorsement of Mitt Romney. This news is huge. For those Liberals that tend to ignore the inner workings of the Tea Party, Lummis looms large and had a big voice in the Debt Ceiling fiasco. Her endorsement will likely push Romney another 5 points. How will the new flavor of the month respond? Not Cain, his flavor has seriously soured. How will Newt proceed from here?
   In other big news, the Supreme Court is scheduled to determine whether the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. While this ruling may have negative implications for the President, it is just as potentially negative for Mitt Romney. It will likely place Romney in the undesirable position of defending the mandate while offering the subtle differences between State and Federal mandate as the contrast. Newt Gingrich isn't out of the weeds on this issue either. Newt has supported the mandate repeatedly, while trying to say his earlier words really have no meaning unless he says they do.
   Originally, I had intended to write that it's time to drop the "fun and games" and get serious about 2012. Yes, the Republican field is the weakest I've seen or even imagined in my lifetime, but there is a serious challenge to be considered from Mitt Romney. He's a chameleon and he's determined. Lest we get too giddy with all the punchlines from also-rans, Romney will certainly select a very strategic VP candidate. Of course, there's plenty of time for Mitt to misstep in a big way, but if the focus continues to be the sideshow of Cain, Bachmann and Perry, it just might go unnoticed or less than fully exposed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy My Imagination - Thoughts in Flux: A reply to Shoq

It is always a strange coincidence that I find myself with not only similar views as you, but similar trajectory in thought regarding politics. Maybe it's the demographic or maybe it's the DNA, but I just tweeted a link to the "Third Continental Congress" proposal with the lead-in, "Oh boy" (sarcasm).
    I was "on the fence" then I was "off the fence" in support to a degree. I wasn't quite sure how to express it, but I did blog it. Then I was confronted with the John Lewis issue. On the one hand, it makes sense to deny any elected official the opportunity to "steer the dialogue". In the case of John Lewis, the dialogue would immediately shift to the Civil Rights Movement. I'm a thinker, an ideas guy, and I can assure you this leaves OWS open to all kinds of spin and criticism with very little upside. Just as allowing Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich to be perceived as spokesperson and from that point, anything they say will be initially perceived as "endorsed" by the OWS. While I may agree with John Lewis regarding non-violent protest and the struggle, I haven't always agreed with the strength of his positions on legislation or candidates. My point is, the perceived "snub" actually does fit in with my perspective of OWS as a social, not a political "movement". But then I realized there is an alternative, a democratic alternative. That being, let ANY elected official speak and join the conversation. And the light bulb went on...
   I started by researching the rumor that Ron Paul was given an opportunity to speak. I didn't even confirm either way. I just kept thinking the movement is fundamentally exclusive, even though it's marketed, promoted or propagandized (take your pick) as an inclusive "99%". I was looking through the OWS forum when I found the "Third Continental Congress" and I finally just laughed and shook my head. It's an anarchist movement at the core. Sure, they utilize the language of democracy, but it isn't really democracy they want. They can't tell you what they want...for a reason.
  When I say "they" I'm referring to the core of the movement, not the additional thousands we recently witnessed. Those are well-intentioned people experiencing and expressing a catharsis. Most of them simply want to wash away the hate of our hyper-partisan government and politics. There's some blame being tossed around, but it's mostly a nonpartisan, collective scream of "ENOUGH!". And I'm fairly certain there are more Americans that will express themselves through OWS. But I'm equally certain that the numbers will not be sustained. As people "cleanse" themselves with a day of protest, they won't be returning at a high enough rate to offset attrition. It is still a useful "event" as it provides the opportunity for cleansing and serves as a reminder of the importance of being engaged and taking action. voting. And that has to be the focus for 2012.
   Does this mean I'm "anti-OWS"? No. I still see the positive as greater than the anarchist roots. It's still possible that the anarchist foundation could give way to a Liberal, political Leadership as well. Anarchists are fundamentally handicapped at leading "organizations", so it stands to reason that the "movement" will either be taken over or fall into bankruptcy of spirit. There is a concern, of course, that Pro-Left opportunists could position themselves to take up the torch and "the brand". This is something we all should be aware of and protect against, in my opinion. Should I see any indication that the "anti-Obama emoprogs" have commandeered this rudderless ship, at that point I become "anti-OWS".

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy My Imagination - Coming Alive

   Thursday, October 6, 2011. Because I had singled out the Portland, Oregon group for an unfortunate quote from one person regarding the need to "disrupt" the city, I made a point of following their march. CNN set up a live feed (sans audio) of video from a helicopter that gave an intriguing perspective of the number of participants. My first reaction was, "This is impressive". 
   In the previous 24 hours, the Mayor and the Chief of Police in Portland made very reasonable strategy decisions. They affirmed the right of citizens to demonstrate and air their grievances. They implored the group to follow the permitting process, but allowed a far less stringent process due to the essentially "leaderless" quality of the Occupy movement. In doing so, they received a map of the march route and a predetermined occupation area. There was cooperation.
   The march went very well. Only two arrests were reported and the participation was measured at roughly 10,000. It has been identified as the largest occupation outside of Manhattan. As I watched the coverage and read various live-blogs I suddenly realized I am no longer sitting on the fence, I'm actively engaged and I'm in full support. Just today, the Occupy group negotiated a "co-occupance" of Chapman Square. There is a Marathon this weekend that had a long-standing permit (those pesky permits), but an agreement was reached with the marathoners. 
   Now that I'm engaged and expressing support, I have a suggestion about the "politics". I view the movement as an opportunity to express grievances and solutions without any ideological reference point or filter. In a sense, I would like to see the movement be essentially apolitical with regard to our two party system. No "third party" or new "party", just a movement that expresses the desires of the majority, the minority and the individual with a common sense approach. No fancy intellectual terms, just common language. There's an old saying, "keep it simple, stupid" and that might be a good by-law. Of course, the hope would be that the political bodies would take notice and try to appeal to the 99%, rather than the 99% trying to appeal to the political bodies. There is leverage in a movement that draws 10,000 citizens on a weeknight, assume the leverage.
   It could very well be in effect right now, but I'm suggesting it be made known that ideology shouldn't command the debate, the discourse or the discussion. Maintain the movement as a "partisan-free zone". While individuals would be expected to participate in the elections as they choose, they wouldn't feel any pressure to vote for a certain candidate or party. Endorsing any candidates as a body would be the end of the movement, in my opinion. At that point, it becomes a special interest group, a political party or a "wing" of a political party, in my opinion. Even a candidate that emerges from within the movement should be exempted from any "endorsement" as a body. But at the individual level? By all means, express support and even contribute. The Occupy movement, to me is about Society and Justice. It's about shaping politics and government through freedom of expression and thought. Leave the ideology at the Waterfront.
   To be continued...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occupy My Imagination - Fail

   Today was a big day for #OWS, the Occupy Wall Street "movement". Roughly ten thousand protestors, demonstrators and yes, agitators (don't deny it) descended upon Manhattan with the addition of Union support. MSNBC and other media decided to give a closer look and do their best to interpret the "message", but the bottom line for OWS was an opportunity to get the nation's attention. After watching the Ed Schultz show, I was left with a nagging feeling of disappointment.
   While I'm generally supportive of the collective endeavor to raise awareness of the level of pain, suffering, anxiety and anger regarding the widening disparity in income and wealth distribution, I'm not actively supportive. The primary reason? The failure to recognize that voting for candidates that share your values or express a willingness to advocate for your cause is essential to democracy. Also, the complete disregard for one of the most basic problems leading to this crisis in corruption, abysmally low voter participation.
   Ed Schultz took his show to the streets and at the very end allowed a fairly well-spoken individual to explain why he was there. He finished by saying that "consensus" is the answer and that elected government is just "there". I understand the idealism, just as I understand the libertarian ideal. The likelihood that I would actively support either ideology is the same, zero percent chance. But there was another development that concerns me even more.
   Let me say right now that I don't expect #OWS to be overly concerned that I "approve" of the underlying goals or behavior in general. I'm only offering my observation and opinion as constructive criticism. As I was looking at various occupy websites, I came across this article . The Portland group has decided to ignore getting permits in a misguided effort to more thoroughly "disrupt" the city. This will inevitably lead to some confrontations, some mace and flailing arms with mouths screaming "Who are you protecting?!". To which the answer is quite simple, they are protecting the rights of citizens that kindly request that you get a permit and not DISRUPT their daily activities. The permit is basically a communication to the police that lets them know the areas of demonstration, the path of any march and a guess as to the size of the crowd. This gives the police the opportunity to minimize the disruption to all of the other citizens through notifications and signage. It's also a function of our democracy.
   The article raises concerns regarding police "brutality" and the events leading to it. It suggests that a goal of some of the protesters is to create friction with the police. Instead of creating a valuable alliance with members of the 99% that are employed as public servants and "Peace Officers", the focus seems to be alienation. Making the police part of "them" and "the others". Making them an easy and highly visible target of misdirected anger. Am I saying this would be happening 100% of the time? Absolutely not. But it's a perspective that I guarantee the Tea Party and the Republicans will exploit. Worse, it's a perspective that the majority of the 99% will adopt. They will adopt it because the majority want our police force to be effective. Chaos and "consensus" aren't mainstream for a reason and it really isn't due to a lack of "educating oneself" or becoming enlightened. It's because chaos and consensus are primitive, inefficient and cumbersome. It is because there are viable alternatives, including our present form of government. The real issue is the money that leads to corruption. Stick to the basics. Avoid the manipulative strategy and the temptation to wallow in playing the victim to garner sympathy support.
   Although I'm not an active participant, that doesn't mean I'm "against" the movement. Nor does it mean that I won't become active in the future. I'm literally "on the fence". But I can say with confidence that if the true goal at the core of OWS is to radically alter the "system" toward a consensus, that will be a tough sell to the 99%.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Occupy My Imagination - The beginning of Awareness

   It was a seemingly "normal" day on Twitter. The usual banter of slogans and partisan back-and-forth that generally provides at least a glimpse into the core issues and talking points of the moment. Occasionally I'd see a tweet with the odd, but intriguing, "occupywallstreet" hashtag and think, "oh ya, the love-in".
   The basic message from the tweets being a disappointment with the "media" for their lack of coverage. "What's there to cover?", I would think. As the tweets began to multiply and my normally diverse stream slowly morphed into a stream of lament over the absence of major networks offering publicity for the 300 or so "leaderless" protestors,  my frustration began to build. "Make the protest impossible to ignore", I finally tweeted. There! I sure told them and they sure can't say I didn't try to "help", huh? In fact, what I had really just done was to "buy in" to the movement, although I'm quite certain there are others in my stream that thought I was just another Corporatist enabler. And as if the hand of fate actually exists, a New York Police Officer with a serious case of  "You will respect my authoritarrr!" went on a cowardly rampage of vigilante mace spraying.
   As is often the case, this act of authoritarian "discipline" had a reverse effect from it's intention. Instead of quieting or discouraging the protest, it has ignited the media coverage and brought new momentum and resolve to the movement. As my Twitter stream exploded in "can you believe this?" tweets providing links to videos of abuse of authority, I couldn't help but think that it will be quite impossible for the "media" to ignore #occupywallstreet now.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Who told you to be a Progressive?

   It was Tuesday night and the polls in Wisconsin had closed. I was settling in to follow live results from numerous sources, including Twitter of course. My choice for live television? MSNBC and The Ed Schultz show, a show that I usually end up turning off after the first segment as of late. 
   I've been a listener of Ed's for years now. Back when Air America and Al Franken hit the airwaves and Ed would constantly remind his listeners he was NOT part of the same network, but a Jones Radio Network program. Even then, he sought to differentiate his views from the "liberal base" as a "gun-totin', meat-eatin' lefty". So it came as little surprise that on this Tuesday night, Ed Schultz chose his words and his guests carefully to eliminate the very mention of that "word", liberal. I couldn't keep count of the times the word Progressive came pouring forth, but it was so overwhelming I was compelled to tweet (which doesn't really take a lot of compelling) that there just might be some "Liberals" involved in Wisconsin as well. By that time, Adam Green was on camera taking credit for the enthusiasm and any victory that might be experienced for this "Progressive movement". 
   For anyone that might be thinking, "What difference does it make? Progressive or Liberal, it's still a win for Democrats", let me try and explain. Semantics matter in politics. Semantics matter even more in today's no-holds-barred politics-for-money game. While using the term Progressive might drive some new donors to the "Bold Progressives" website, it can also alienate the labor faction as well as the blue-blood liberals and moderates. The majority of Labor faction Democrats that I know prefer to call themselves liberal or even Socialist, but Progressive? That's a label for the intelligentsia and the ideologues. I take it a step further and posit that the label represents a capitulation to the Conservative campaign of demonizing the term "Liberal". And I say this even though I originally pushed for a conversion to the Progressive label through a strategy of semantics. As a network of prolific comment writers, we would conscientiously replace "liberal" with "progressive" at every opportunity. In fact, it was based on the idea that we could avoid the entrenched anti-liberal talking points and restore credibility. But somewhere along the way, the label was hijacked, redirected and perverted into an inflexible ideology of extremism and a whole lot of anger. An ideology that values emotion as a tool to increase traffic and sales and, of course, clicks. 
   In a former network, we had envisioned a Progressive Democratic Party (and caucus) that would be broadly based on the Teddy Roosevelt model. Most of the primary issues still resonate today. After all, it really wasn't that long ago in real-world history (although in America we tend to consider even 30 years as ancient history). The politics of the Progressive Party would be attractive to moderates and a good case could have been made for moderate Republicans to consider a "rebirth" of the progressive Republican. Ah, what could have been.  Instead of a level-headed movement with issues steeped in historical relevance and appealing to a broad base, the Progressives have become the "Tea Party" of the left with a rigid opposition to compromise. So where do we go from here?
   I strongly suggest we return to our roots. We embrace the "Liberal" label with an in-your-face attitude toward the Conservatives. I often hear that Liberals have never accomplished anything and we are lazy, crazy and partying fools (the 70's media portrayal). Of course, that would be ignoring Social Security, Medicare, the Equal Rights Amendment, Civil Rights and Emancipation. We can quibble over the political party in power, but these are undeniably Liberal ideals and accomplishments. So Liberal that Republicans today are calling for their repeal, as Rush Limbaugh recently suggested when he posited the GOP could undo the accomplishments of the last 45-50 years. And in all sincerity, if we allow these new "Progressives" to take the lead, we will certainly lose the fight. The first step in Taking America Forward is reigning in the Progressives, beginning with a strategy of semantics that redirects our focus toward our Liberal roots and the true meaning of progress for America..