Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dealing with Idiots

If you've been paying attention at all the last week or so, you've heard about the sequester, how it will cost thousands of jobs, billions of dollars for necessary programs, and essentially drive our nation into a fiscal oblivion from which we may never recover. If you've really been paying attention, you may be wondering why in the hell we're even still talking about this. Surely, it's political suicide for any politician to stand in the way of preventing the sequestration from taking place.

Well, the idiots in Congress are doing just that. It appears as though both parties are trying to gain the upper hand in negotiations over how to avoid the sequester. Democrats and Republicans alike want to be the ones that set the terms for this discussion. In reality, it shouldn't matter since whatever deal is reached should be equally terrible for both parties, but good for the American people.

I've been wondering why it is that our representatives are failing to negotiate over something that is clearly a very bad idea. Why aren't they doing more, meeting around the clock to hammer out proposals, working together to save us all?

Here's one reason: they're afraid of the repurcussions. What repurcussions. The best example is John Boehner, who appears to be worried about losing his speakership should he cave on revenue increases. With that much of a consequence on the table, it's no wonder both sides are hesitant to give anything.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Oh, Religion

Few things irk me more than idiotic religion. I have nothing against Christianity in theory, but it's a practical mess. For one thing, the Christian lobby is very strong in Washington, advocating for free religous expression for them, and limited expression of others.

This video from Russel Brand's show serves as a great reminder of how messed up religion can get, and how it can warp people:



One of the things that really gets me is when the guy from Westboro says "If the holy spirit doesn't move you to do something, you don't do it!" He's implying that every single action carried out by a human being is dictated by the Holy Spirit, by God. If that's the case, then homosexual behavior, violence, infanticide, abortion, etc. are all perpetrated by the Holy Spirit as well.

Then you have people who know religion is crazy, and go out of their way to make it even crazier, like this guy in New Jersey who refused to take a strainer off his head in the name of religious expression.

When it comes to religion, people need to just live and let live. For one thing, our political system is polarized enough without introducing the harsh doctrines of conservative Christianity into the mix. And, if you were to remove religion's influence from our political discourse, there would be a much healthier discussion over issues such as gay marriage, women's health and reproductive rights, abortion, rape, domestic violence issues, and education reform.

A friend of mine is fond of saying "our society will not be free until the last priest is strangled with the entrails of the last king." Not sure I believe that entirely, but the point is well taken in a way. Until we relieve ourselves of these arbitrary notions about what's acceptable to the "cosmic entity" we choose to pray to, we will be woefully unable to consider other points of view as valid, and will continually fail to make progress on issues that impact our society as a whole.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The H-1B

Two stories caught my attention on NPR the other morning. The first had to do with 3D printing, which is slated to be the next generation in manufacturing and industrial design. The new technology was mentioned by Obama in his SOTU address last week. 3d printers, which allow an individual to scan and "print" 3-dimensional objects, is believed by some to be the herald of a new industrial revolution. The question is, how does the US capitalize on this new technology? As it gets cheaper, and questions are raised about copyrights and piracy, how can we turn this new technology into our second wind?

The second story had to do with H-1B visas for migrant workers. The visas are available to highly skilled and trained immigrants, usually in engineering and computer industries, to help attract skilled workers to the US. The problem, as the story points out, is that many companies who hire skilled workers are more interested in picking up foreign workers on the H-1B visa than American workers. Why? Because those who are here on a visa are more apt to stay despite bad pay, long hours, and minimal benefits. American workers are more picky about their jobs, especially those with high-level skills.

Obama's SOTU made it clear that he is interested in seeing a revitalization of our productive industrial sector. Engineering, science, and technology have become major priorities in our education system. Yet we continue to fall behind the rest of the world in technological research, development, and manufacturing. Our car industry aside, we've essentially lost all major manufacturing industries to cheaper foreign labor.

The reason these two stories peaked my interest is because they seem to answer their own questions: how do we move forward with a new technology, and how do we get companies to hire American workers? The solution, it seems, would be to focus our energy on new technology, and turn the US into a leader in things like 3D printing. Right now, it's still a largely unexplored field. It's getting cheaper, no doubt, but it could be much more accessible in years to come if we devote time and money to it now.

3D printing is just starting to make waves in manufacturing, being the newest result of combining production with new-age technology. The US has a unique opportunity to take this new technology and use to as a catalyst for major economic change.

How does the H-1B fit into this? In my opinion, the work visa is a great idea in the sense that it allows us to bring bright, capable workers here to help our economy and to help in the production of American products. On the downside, we have the issue of those workers taking jobs from Americans. The solution, in my opinion, is to limit the number of H-1B workers a company can hire based on how many Americans they hire to equal positions. For example, for every H-1B engineer a company hires, they have to hire two American engineers to positions of equal pay value and work. That would keep Americans from being shut out of these jobs, while still keeping a place for foreign workers to find jobs as well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

SOTU 2013 Review

Last night, President Obama gave his fourth State of the Union Address. The full speech lasted approximately one hour, with long periods of commentary and analysis before and after. The rebuttal for the Republicans was handled by Marco Rubio, who also handled his extreme thirst very well. The Tea Party also had their say via Rand Paul. A comparison of these three views is available here, though I caution that it is not exactly neutral (it's the only one I could find).

Here's a breakdown of the major issues that were discussed in the speech and responses last night:

The Economy: Obama started out by laying out his vision for a new, 21st Century US economy that focuses on the technology and training of the future. He talked about the recovery that has been slow and unsteady, yet inevitable, over the last several years. He also discussed his plans to help cut through the regulatory red tape that keeps businesses back, making it cheaper and easier to conduct business in the US in the hopes of enticing more business and jobs to our shores. Obama's tagline here was "we don't need a larger government; we need a smarter one."

That's good news to me. It all sounds great, and if Congress will work with him then I see no reason this can't happen. After all, Republicans want to de-regulate and reduce the size of government. They want to encourage business growth. That sounds like a great place to start the conversation to me. Of course, no one side has all the answers, but it seems as though this vision of Obama's should be at least considered by the Right.

National Debt: Coincidentally, the Treasury Department had some interesting information to share regarding our national debt the other day. Obama made it clear that he wants to move some of our funds around, shore up certain programs while carefully cutting others. Again, he talked about reducing regulatory issues to help cut costs at the federal level. Obama also called for revenue increases and spending cuts to take place, calling on Congress to continue with a bipartisan plan to balance the budget.

Again, sounds pretty good, and the Treasury Department's report makes it seem as though we're on the right path. I think that we should start with a fiscal house-cleaning, by which I mean reorganizing our regulatory systems, cutting out waste and abuse, and redistributing money to vital programs. Only when that has been done should we look at tax increases, and only on those who already pay the least, and only so much that we can pay for all our programs. I will say, though, that I oppose the balanced budget amendment, because it forces government into regressive tax and spending policies due to tax limits. More on that in a later post. Suffice it to say, we need revenue and spending cuts to take place in a common-sense fashion, and only when needed.

Immigration: This is an issue that the President largely glossed over in terms of border issues. Instead, he fell back on his record of deportation, which is the most robust of any recent president. Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform, including pathways to citizenship that were easier to understand and more abundant, and which will require background checks and tax registration.

In this case, I wish Obama had been a little more direct. He's got a good record on immigration, but he didn't use that. I think the idea of comprehensive reform is good, but he's going to have a difficult time convincing people that it's not amnesty. I think Congress has more pressing issues, and that this one may fall by the wayside. However, we will eventually get around to fixing our immigration system by redefining the laws, enforcing our laws, and creating a system where it is more attractive to come here legally than illegally.

Sequestration: Obama talked about this briefly as well, making the point that sudden, deep cuts that were planned by Congress, passed by him as part of a debt ceiling deal, and since resurrected by Congress, would be bad for the economy. He called on Congress, like with the national debt discussion, to work out a debt deal that prevented the sequestered cuts from taking place.

Again, I think Obama should have been a little tougher here. The sequester was not his idea (as many Republicans, including Rand Paul in his rebuttal, have claimed), but he has not been working as closely with Congress as he could to avoid them. He's laying the responsibility solely on their shoulders, which is actually right where it belongs. After all, by the coveted separation of powers, Obama should have no say whatsoever in budget issues. However, I feel as though he should challenge Congress a bit more to work with his administration to meet the debt needs of the government in a way that prevents these automatic cuts that no one wants.

Energy/Infrastructure: Obama was very vocal in his support for the next generation of energy. He called for more solar, more wind, and more natural gas exploration. He called for a reinvestment in our roads and bridges, in making our infrastructure work cheaper and smarter and faster to help businesses cut costs. Obama talked about developing more green energy through wind and solar power, and tapping into natural gas to help bring America back to the forefront of energy production.

In this case, I think Obama hit the nail right on the head. He was clear that we need more renewable energy, yet also clear that he's willing to let the natural gas boom continue. I think that this year will be an important one where we balance our energy needs, environmental needs, and financial needs in a way that delivers comprehensive energy reform. I think we need to invest in our own technology, our own development of energy, and create the energy solutions of the future right here at home.

Education: Obama talked about education briefly as well, focusing on his plan to expand pre-k education to nearly every child in the United States. He called on Congress to pass education reforms that refocus on technology skills (science, math, etc.), and also called on Congress to work with schools around the country to provide programs that encourage students to pursue higher education and to go into the technology, manufacturing, and engineering fields.

This was one of my favorite parts of the speech, because Obama laid out such a great plan for our educational future. I absolutely agree with him that we need pre-k to be available to every single child, especially those in low-income situations. I think we also need to work on more localized standards of education rather than nationalized standards, since cultural differences from one place to another can make a huge difference in learning style and progress. My own personal views on education are still way off the status quo, but this would be a good way to move toward successful education practices.

Military: Obama talked briefly on our military development and successes. He congratulated the US on our plan for the drawdown in Afghanistan, and our reinvention of warfare with the use of drones and diplomatic support to local military forces. Obama emphasized his commitment to preventing terror attacks on US soil, and to targeting key terror cells in foreign nations that present threats to the United States and its foreign interests.

This is one of those topics that is a little touchy with me, especially considering North Korea's recent exploits. I think we need to focus on keeping our men and women out of harm's way, but must also focus on preventing as much collateral damage as possible. That means, highly focused targeting of terror suspects, and preventing civilian casualties whenever possible. Overall, I think Obama was very strong on this part of the speech.

Guns/Domestic Violence/Equal Rights: Each of these topics sort of rolled into one another towards the end of the speech. While Obama did not come right out and endorse assault weapon bans or anything like that, he strongly condemned the recent violence in our country and called for Congress to review common-sense legislation to prevent further massacres. He also chastised Congress (House Republicans, mostly), for failing to pass VAWA, and for slowing down things like equal pay laws that help women in the workplace.

This is the point that seemed the most tense for me, and when Obama was most likely to attack the Republicans. He was very clear that he did not approve of doing nothing over the gun debate, and was equally clear that he expected Congress to get it's shit together and work on a solution.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Korea

North Korea carried out a surprise nuclear test today. While the total magnitude registered less than 1/3 of the Hiroshima bomb, the political and social implications are great.

First of all, the U.N. is placing record sanctions on Korea, and has turned most of the world's nations against them. But that didn't stop them. Their people are starving and impoverished, and this is what they spend their money on. North Korea has also conducted long-range missile tests with the intention of targeting the US.

The problem appears to be that North Korea sees sanction by the international community as a challenge to be overcome. Their people may starve, but if they can blow something up with a big enough bang, they'll get people's attention.

I don't think we're at a point where force is needed, but we have to do something. Personally, I think we need to start putting pressure on North Korea's allies to either cut them off or face sanction themselves. There are also humanitarian questions to ask. For example, is there a way to help the Korean people while their government violates international statutes? Whose responsibility is that?

I take some comfort in knowing, though, that North Korea will never be able to strike America. Even if they develop technology that can reach our shores, our own defense will certainly stop them before they strike. And one attack is all the provocation needed for the international community to declare war. I'm not a proponent of pre-emptive war, and I think it should be avoided at all costs, but in the case of North Korea, I don't see any other solutions if things get that far.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Equality

I don't normally talk about women's rights issues, but this really got to me. I know that women's health, the VAWA, and so on are making a comeback as political issues, but that's not the whole story. I've often noticed that conservative pundits and commentators, most notably Rush Limbaugh, talk a lot about Feminists, Feminazis, and so on. They seem to think that women who stand up for themselves, speak out for their rights and freedoms, and who want a stronger voice in politics and social policy discourse are somehow destroying the fabric of our society. This is, in a word, bullshit.

Now, I don't consider myself an expert on gender issues. Perhaps I'm a bit naive about a lot of things when it comes to gender equality. I know that women have been struggling with equal pay, equal representation, and equal rights in general for years. They've been making strides in the workplace over things like maternity leave and so on, and have even made their presence known in Congress with the addition of several more representatives.

But that hasn't stopped the scapegoating of "radical feminism" by conservatives. It's the feminists that advocate abortion, sex education, and, god forbid, birth control and contraception. It's the feminist that has attacked the power of men in the office as well as in the home. It's the feminist that has taken the jobs of men, forcing them to become stay-at-home dads. It's the feminist that had destroyed the institution of marriage by demanding a voice once their a spouse, by experimenting with cohabitation and lesbianism, and by wanting to be equal to men.

What astounds me the most in all of this is that some women are actively opposed to feminism and equality. That just boggles my mind.

Like I said, I don't normally dwell on the issue of women's rights. But I've come to understand that equality among people, regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation, is essential for a just and Democratic society. What we have to do is understand that the feminist movement is still important because there are still people willing to deny rights to women.

I'm astounded that so much ignorance and hate could exist in the 21st Century, but it serves as yet another reminder of why it's important to fight for one's beliefs. The day we lay aside our desire for freedom is the day we lose our freedom completely.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ridiculousness Continuing



You may have noticed that we are still in the throes of media hype over the Benghazi attacks that took place five months ago. I could understand people's anger, frustration, etc. more if this had been a unique situation. Clearly. looking at the picture above, it wasn't. And no matter what the talking heads on the Right have to say, they haven't white-washed our history yet, and we can still remember things from more than four years ago.

Despite Conservatives trying to make this attack into a major political movement by using it to create smokescreen hearings and block nominations, there doesn't seem to be anything there to discuss anymore. Sure, there may have been more that could be done in the moment, but the fact is, our leaders acted the way they did, and it's done. As Hilary Clinton so (in)famously put it "What difference does it make now?" As crude and distant as that statement may seem (and Republicans are certainly trying to work that into every discussion), it's no less true. Despite conspiracy nuts and crazy idiots who think it was some grand conspiracy, and that we're just waiting for the cover to be blown open, there's been no new information, no new analysis, and no new heads to roll.

And now, to point out the next level of hypocrisy, which is that our esteemed former President, Mr. Bush, had a worse track record than Obama when it came to foreign embassy attacks. More members of America's foreign offices died under Bush than under Obama. Same outrage, demand for answers, hearings to barrage SOS Rice? Nope. Nothing.

So while the Republicans continue to wallow in this Benghazi delirium, and use it to further their obstructionist tactics, it would be worth noting that they are just as guilty of ignoring these tragedies as they claim Democrats are, they are just as guilty of turning a blind eye to American deaths, and they are just as willing to demand answers from a Democratic President as they are to demand obedience to a Republican one.

Renewing VAWA

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been up for renewal for a while now but, like so much else, has been waylaid by partisanship in Congress. The issue at the moment is a move by Senate Democrats to expand the protections for victims of abuse in LGBT relationships, as well as giving women who are abused by members of Native American tribes more legal clout.  Republicans tried to make their own changes in the House, but Senate Democrats have rejected their proposals, as it would actually limit the bill's effectiveness.

What's so frustrating about this is that is should not be an issue in the first place. The VAWA is a landmark piece of legislation. It has become a cornerstone for many women's health and safety initiatives in the United States over the last 17 or so years. And for what? For one line in a proposal that Democrats want to use to expand the coverage the VAWA has for women in LGBT relationships and for women who are abused by members of Native American Tribes. Sure, there are some legal issues to deal with when it comes to tribal affairs, but that's not reason enough, at least in my opinion, to stop the whole thing.

This speaks to the larger issues that have plagued our legislature for several years now. It's not enough to do what should be done anymore, it's all about making a political statement. I understand that Republicans fundamentally disagree with legitimizing those in the LGBT community. What I don't understand is how that translates into an unwillingness to treat every single woman in America as a human being worthy of protection and representation under the law. A person's sexual orientation cannot be taken into account when they are considered for employment; why is it taken into account when the law is deciding whether their an abuse victim?

I work in a pretty tough community. I see and hear a lot of violence and difficult situations. Not once, in the time I've worked where I do, have I ever considered a person's sexual orientation or who their partner is when I'm working with them. Not once have I ever taken that information into account of how I perceive or respond to that individual. And yet, Republicans are trying to say that giving them similar protections under VAWA to heterosexual individuals is morally reprehensible. You want to know what I think is morally reprehensible? Proclaiming, by word or deed, that a person is less deserving of safety, security, health, and well-being because of who they choose to love.

Friday, February 8, 2013

How to Fix Education

Teachers Pay and Hours


The chart above shows a comparison of the number of hours teachers work in the classroom compared to how much they make relative to the national GDP of their home country. In case you can't follow all the lines, the United States requires its teachers to spend the most time in the classroom, but is ranked 23rd in compensation. Korea pays its teachers the most, and the widest spread is Japan, with their teachers making the most money compared to the time they spend teaching.

What the United States seems to do more than any other nation is criticize our educators and demand more for less. We want longer hours, fewer benefits, reduced pensions, better test scores for each and every child, and all while we pay our teachers a crap salary. Education is a common punching bag for the federal government, but it also suffers from state and local cuts as well. In my area, town meetings are held annually to discuss the budget for the school. Every single time it's voted on, the first draft proposal is voted down. Why? Mostly, because community members who choose to send their children to private institutions vote no. They don't want to pay for someone else's education, but they are also removed from the consequences of these cuts. Teacher layoffs, failing to replace broken or outdated equipment and books; these are major issues if we want our children to have a 21st century, first-class education.

So, what do we do to fix this? First of all, let's make teaching attractive job opportunity. Right now, education doesn't even make it into the top 15 most lucrative professions. And look at the list of jobs that do. Most of them are jobs that people want and train for years in order to get (at least in some cases). Many of them require a large investment in post-secondary education, specialized programs, advanced degrees, and years of additional training and experience.

We demand that same level of academic and financial obligation from people who wish to teach. They must have a masters, they must have specialized training, pass regional tests designed to test their knowledge and understanding of education topics. They must regularly retake those tests to make sure their standards are still high. They are required in many cases to continue their education at an almost constant rate, something no other profession requires. Once a lawyer gets his law degree, he's not required to continue going to school. But a teacher is.

All of those things cost time and money, and are required of teachers. Yet we pay them less than most other countries, and we require more of them. We complain about how much they cost and how much we have to burden ourselves, when we're asking them to give up so much of their own time and money to stay in their positions.

The solution, as I said before I went off on that tangent, is to make education an attractive career path for our smartest citizens. Many of them are now being flooded into Wall St., law firms, or government. We need to get those people to consider education. We need to pay our teachers more so that we can attract smart, capable educators for the next generation. Wall Street does the exact same thing to attract smart investors. They have even said that they must keep their bonuses and high salaries to be able to remain competitive in the marketplace. Well, apply that logic to our education system. Isn't that a more worthwhile investment than Wall Street executives?

We can demand longer school days, longer school years, more oversight, more accountability, etc. all we want. But until we realize that our educators are overworked, overburdened, underfunded, underappreciated, and being used as a scapegoat for political deficit hawks and austerity-addicts, we don't have a chance of changing anything. We need to be better, and we can be.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gangs

Ross Gittins has a tremendous article on the most powerful gangs in America today. The article discusses these gangs from the perspective of a new book by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs. These gangs are wealthy, well-connected, and impact all of our lives on a daily basis. They have cost us trillions of dollars since they got started, and their influence is only getting worse as time goes on.

The four great gangs are the Military-Industrial Complex, the Wall Street-Washington Complex, Big Oil-Transport-Military Complex, and the Healthcare industry. Together, these four powerful industries have a huge stake in our economy and the direction of our nation.

The Military-Industrial Complex is an easy one to figure out. Defense contracts being given out without bid, decades of militarization all over the world, and a constant demand for better defense technologies have created a mass industry in America around war. That industry has paid for politicians for years who push for more military funding, more war, and more autonomy for the military and its contracted companies. Look at the state of perpetual war that has been going in the Middle East for over a decade now. That's not by accident; it's an investment in these powerful companies who make millions or even billions of dollars off of bloodshed, and then spend that money on politicians who will keep the ball rolling. This is why we have hyper-militarization and a DOD that is willing to whack anybody over anything.

Then there's the Wall Street-Washington Complex. Anyone who's paid attention for the last few years has probably heard about the issues with rampant speculation and risky investment on Wall St. But the trouble runs deeper than that. Many of the financial regulators in Washington come from backgrounds on Wall St. This "revolving door" between Washington and the financial sector has created major issues when it has come to regulating and prosecuting these institutions. Take Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most well-known and well-documented example. Cronyism is so common that it's not even surprising anymore. And like the analogy suggests, this is a two-way street, with people from powerful government positions in groups like the SEC going to Goldman, and Goldman execs taking their place.

The Big Oil-Transport-Military Complex is a little less apparent, but is perhaps one of the oldest gangs around. Big oil companies have a long history of working closely with automakers to produce the mutually beneficial situation where fossil fuels are the one and only source of energy used in our vehicles. Look at the history of the electric car, which was invented in the 1880's and then bought out and killed by oil-backed automakers. And the need for cheap, plentiful oil reserves have meant increased focus on places where those reserves are: the Middle East. It's an open secret that our interest in Middle Eastern affairs has less to do with spreading Democracy and more to do with getting at the oil there, as well as giving our government a reason to hand over billions in military contracts to folks like Halliburton, former VP Cheney's company.

Finally, we have the healthcare industry. Like the other gangs, healthcare has made billions of dollars for itself over the years, has bought lawmakers and pushed laws and deregulation, and has essentially monopolized it's own niche. The difference here, at least in my mind, is the devastating impact this has had on individual Americans. Think about it. Many insurance companies will not cover generics, will not allow you to go to certain homeopathic specialists or seek certain treatments because they are "untested." In reality, this means that the treatment has no financial incentive for the institution of health care. Not only does our medicine cost more, it has worse outcomes than in Europe. The healthcare industry grosses about 17% of our national GDP every year, the largest chunk from any one source. And do you know why? Because laws and regulations have been put in place that keep costs for pills and procedures at a premium, forcing people to pay for insurance programs, or get into Medicare or Medicaid, even for simple things.

Taken together, it's a very well-connected and distinctly corrupt group. These gangs are constantly pushing their agenda in Congress, using their financed politicians, lobbyists, and lawyers to craft, pass, and implement laws that benefit them, and tax and regulation reforms that help them. What we need is a way to break up these groups and suck the money out of them.

How do we do that? First, limit how much they can contribute to campaigns of politicians. I know that money comes from a lot of shady corners, but it doesn't have to be that way. Then, once we've cleaned the monopolist, globalizing puppets out of Congress, start passing tough regulations and laws that restrict the actions of these groups. Third, invest in those regulations. Right now, we've slashed the funding to the very organizations that are supposed to be routing out waste, fraud, and abuse. We need to give them the money to do what they are meant to, protect the interests of the American People.

If we can do that, we'll be on a firm footing to stop the wholesale fleecing of our nation by private organizations who see only profit, operate for their own benefit, and have been controlling the political discourse for decades. If we want a Democracy that includes us as a part of the solution, we have to be willing to do something about the problems.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Unstoppable Force, Immovable Object: The Debate Between Progress and Tradition

In 2009, Howard Fineman wrote The Thirteen American Arguments. It's a book I've referenced in several other posts, and continues to be one of my favorite commentaries on American politics and social policy. The genius of Fineman's book is that he does not argue a singular point on the issues, but rather explains the debate and why it is important. The underlying point of his book is that the debate on issues like immigration, marriage rights, gun control, health care, taxation, representation, and the role of government are not only useful but essential to the health of our Democracy. Without a strong environment of beneficial, respectful argument, our Democracy is lost.

From this perspective, I have developed my own view on the forces that are at play in our politics and our society as a whole. They help to explain our history, how our society has changed, and how we can interpret change in the future. There are essentially two great forces at work at all times: Progress and Tradition.

Progress, being the unstoppable force, is the source of innovation and change. It is the force that drives us toward greater and greater equality. Progress, however, can go too far too fast, causing a situation where our society and culture suddenly shift in dramatic ways that we as the people are not ready for. When this happens, things can become chaotic. Think of the Civil Rights Movement being born out of the major shift in Progress that was the Civil War. The war was a huge collision between the forces of progress and tradition, which had brewed for decades or even centuries.

Tradition, being the immovable object, is the source of historical relevence, doing what works, and keeping things the same. Tradition prevents progress in the worst cases, and slows it in the best. Tradition is what gives us our perspective, our personality, and our history. It cannot be ignored, but it must be tempered.

Inevitably, Progress will win out over Tradition. There is no escaping this, except to become a country ruled by dictatorship, in which case we will have lost Democracy anyway. What we must do is demand that Progress be brought under control and put in the perspective of our traditions. Currently, our two-party system is reflecting a growing tension between Progress and Tradition. Democrats and the Left, currently the party of Progress, are pushing us towards a more egalitarian society with their positions on things like gay rights, abortion rights, gun control, immigration, and taxation. On the other side of this issue are Republicans and the Right, currently the party of strong Tradition, who are working to prevent new freedoms and restrictions from going into effect where none existed before, all in the name of preserving our countries founding principles.

I say that the parties currently express these views because they have not always done so. In the last few decades alone, the Republicans have gone much further to the Right (the reasons for this shift are debatable and many), while the Left has been made to seem more liberal by comparison. In fact, Republicans were once much like Democrats, looking for Progress in Washington, and fighting those who believed states had the right to choose their own direction. The fact that the parties switch positions and even sides over time is well documented.

As I said, Progress is the inevitable victor in this fight. But Tradition plays the important role of slowing progress so that our society can adequately adjust the movement of progress to keep it within the scope of our founding principles, and allow us time to adjust our perspectives and capacities to take on the new demands of our society. It is this debate that will never be resolved, nor should be, because it is what tempers our nation's progress and forges us into a stronger, more unified country as times passes.

We have reached a point of critical mass in this debate. I will not say that this is like the atmosphere that preceded any other great historical event, because I don't know that for sure. But it feels as if the lines that have been drawn in the sand are only deepening for either side, that our great engine of Democracy, which runs on compromise, is running down. When Democracy stalls, chaos ensues. Already we are seeing the effects. Radicalization of our politics, the adoption of conviction to ideals over reason and respect, a breakdown of our social fabric as our leaders turn into screaming children who aren't getting their way.

The reason for this build-up is that Progress has suddenly seemed to grow strong. There are many avenues through which our society has attempted to progress. Healthcare is a big one, with Obamacare dividing the nation almost in half. Then, we have the push for gay rights and reproductive rights. We have the push for immigration reform. We have the push for gun control reforms. And, to a lesser degree, we have movements for reform in things like drugs, information technologies, and education. Even the debates over the role of government and taxation, major arguments of our history, are heating up with the new fight over tax rates and regulations. It seems as if our political system is coming to a climax of contention.

And why shouldn't it? After all, if our political parties are becoming more and more radical, and the doctrine and ideologies of Washington are becoming more entrenched, and there can be no compromise, and there can be no respectful argument, then why shouldn't we be seeing a major build-up in the energy of both Progress and Tradition? They have no avenue to see their ideas take shape, and thus feel as if they are being smothered by the opposition. No one is getting anything done, and they all think it's the other guys' fault.

The best example of this I can give is the recently revived debate over gun rights. In 1999, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, supported instant criminal background checks at gun shows, and for every gun sale. In this video, which analyzes the recent hearings on gun violence, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questions LaPierre on his change of heart on background checks (the entire video is good, but you can skip to 6:00 to catch this exchange). As the parties have become more and more committed to their fringe extremist views (the Right mostly, but some on the left as well), groups like the NRA have revamped their positions and talking points to reflect this shift, remain relevent, and in some cases drive this change forward. This exchange clearly highlights the gaping chasm of views that plague Washington now, and show just how difficult it has become for there to be compromise and negotiation, the driving forces of Democracy. You can see clearly that no one wins, nothing is resolved, and no progress toward a compromise or any kind of agreement is made. Nothing in this entire exchange moves the groups closer to reaching a mutually beneficial deal, because they are diametrically opposed to each other's views.

All this tension, this build-up of ideology, will erupt. I don't know when, but it will. Those on the Right believe the government is poised for a takeover, and have been screaming about revolution (armed or otherwise) for years. Look at Glenn Beck, and his popularity as someone who regularly warns his listeners to arm themselves, build bunkers, start storing food, and essentially defy the government. On the Left, I think people are feeling a revolution coming on, but a revolution of activism and tumultuous politics, not armed insurgency. It seems as though they are planning for a major political bout over these issues.

In the end, Progress will win out. And if Tradition does not play its part of moderating that Progress, we will have some very serious issues to deal with. Imagine if the party of Progress were given free reign to do what they wanted. If you take the Liberal talking points at face value, you're looking at rising taxes on the wealhty and businesses, fully government-supported health care, education, energy investment, infrastructure, and technology. You're looking at a reduction in our military spending, and probably in our foreign involvement. Limiting the rights of gun owners, environmental protection, gay rights, abortion rights, strict laws on food and health goods and services, and so on. While these may sound good, nothing is good without moderation. These kinds of initiatives could bankrupt the country, plunge us into recession or depression, and we would not have the facilities, institutions, policies, or professionals to meet all these new needs at once. It would be chaos.

This is why Tradition must be observed. Like it or not, we are bound to our founding documents and laws. Whether you take a broad or narrow view of a certain amendment or clause, the law must be observed. I know that many people believe that the government is already well outside the boundaries that it was meant to occupy. However, I feel this is the natural result of our Progress over the last centuries. It is the inevitable change that comes with changes in technology, in social policy, and in the needs of our country. Our founding fathers could not foresee automatic rifles, the internet, or automobiles, but that doesn't mean the government has no influence over them. That kind of static, ineffective governance is the whim of pure Traditionalists, and is just as destructive to consider as a fully Progressive government and society.

In the end, it all comes down to compromise, the one thing we lack at this point, and the one thing we most desperately need. I hope that the coming years will see growth and Progress in ways that are meaningful, and seek to repair the relationship between our parties, and I hope to see a renewed sense of faith in our Traditions and founding principles. Together, these two forces will be what drives us into the future, or keep us firmly rooted in the past.