Part of me hates that I find myself writing a blog while on vacation, but I guess it goes to show that I find this to be important enough to brain dump as quickly as possible. Not only am I on vacation, but this is my last night here in Hampton Beach, NH.
I have alluded to Lawrence Lessig in previous blogs. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Lessig, I highly suggest you look him up. An Intellectual Property lawyer and professor, by trade, turned into a political activist I highly admire. I was lucky enough to see him speak at All Souls last year and have been a witness to the adorableness of watching Greg look up to him for years.
Mr. Lessig is most recently known for his stance on money in politics. More specifically, for his arguments for the need to get money 100% out of politics, and elections more specifically. There are numerous lectures on-line you can watch to learn more about Mr. Lessig, his stance and his Rootstriker mentality http://www.rootstrikers.org.
Basically the thought is that until you find the root of any problem and are able to strike down the problem at its root cause, it will continue to be a problem. I feel like there are so many major issues in the world we are all afraid or unwilling to discuss. We don't take the time to think about what the root cause of any problem is, so we try and attack the peripheral issues, never ever solving the root issue. Mr. Lessig (and I) believe that with all of the corruption in politics, the low levels of confidence in congress, the stalemate that Washington has currently perfected, the lackluster amount of those who vote in elections (after so many fought and died for the right to vote), the root problem to all of this in money in elections and money in politics. People feel like their vote doesn't matter and won't make a difference because they know that in the end, big money usually wins.
I highly suggest taking an opportunity to watch some of his presentations as they are truly enraging, engaging and eye opening http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gpbfY-atMk
Money and Politics:
I want you to close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a world where anyone, truly anyone could be President, could be a Senator, or a Governor or a Mayor. Even more challenging, imagine a world where these politicians were looked up to and trusted. Imagine a world where we felt we could actually believe what we were hearing. Imagine a world where we didn't need to do so much investigating on our own, because we actually felt like we could believe what we were being told. Imagine a world where violence and conflict didn't sell. Imagine a world where Fox didn't feel like it needed to "entertain" and actually felt like its job was to accurately educate the masses. Imagine a world where Fox and MSNBC discussed relatively the same topics. I am not saying opinion is a problem, but it should be clearly stated to be opinion. Then again, opinions and lies are two very different things.
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with opinions, but it needs to be framed as an opinion and not as a fact. There are too many folks that take the news verbatim and don't look things up on-line to do more research about what they are hearing. We are unfortunately no longer in a time where we can trust a lot of what we hear. We are in a time where money and advertising and viewers dictate much of the conversation. People run towards the ratings, always and the sexiness, conflict and ridiculousness sells more than anything. It is never about what is important to our country or to our world, it is always about what will get the most viewers. Whether you are yelling about how the liberal media has wronged you, or a huge fan of the Newsroom (as I am), both sides have their issues and their concerns with the media and there is a clear difference between the messages you get and what you believe depending on what channel you tune into at 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 each evening. This isn't right.
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not trying to put Fox and MSNBC into the same categories here, because I honestly believe that Fox knows exactly what it is doing and that more often than not, the information is frammed in a perspective that will fire up the base and their audience. I also am not trying to make this a political fight. I feel like as soon as you say something that one side or the other disagrees with, people shut down and start calling names, calling people Hitler, Racists, etc. It doesn't take long for conversations to quickly turn into name calling, shouting matches where the other side put their fingers in their ears and says na na na na na, I can't hear you, while the other side tries to make their point. It is not constructive and it is how 2 year olds deal with problems, not how adults should.
I honestly feel like addressing problems in a rootstriker way is too important of a concept to try and play politics here. I feel like this is a problem bigger than Democrats, Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, it is bigger than me as a NYer and an American and me as a human on planet Earth. This is a way we all need to think about how we respond to each other and how we try to actually solve the problems that face us in the world today.
Whether or not I am voting for Mitt Romney and totally agree with the Ryan budget, or whether I am a huge Barack Obama supporter, if I am the "Patriot" both sides fault those who don't "appear to be", then my main goal should be accurately ensuring that our country succeeds and prospers. If those that watch MSNBC suddenly learned that they have been lied to in a mass conspiracy to brainwash them, I would hope they would want to know so they can move on and get the facts. Good decisions cannot be made without actual facts, discussions and compromise. If those that watch Fox suddenly learned the same, I would hope the same for them.
If we are all the American Patriots we claim to be and if we are all ensuring we wear our flag pin at all times, like we fault those who don't, or never take vacations, because clearly that is a sign of being unAmerican, then we should all want the best for our country. If we all claim to "put country first" then why is no one willing to have the hard conversations that are necessary? Because it doesn't bring in money and you cannot raise money off of it. It is hard to raise money off of complex issues that are more than a soundbite or a headline. They aren't sexy. You don't, unfortunately, capture viewers with, yes, we all acknowledge there is a problem, and yes, this is really a problem and we are all working hard towards fixing it (where is all the namecalling, swearing, yelling?). What rakes in money is conflict and screaming matches and conspiracy theories. I am all for the 1st Amendment and free speech, but in the time of the 24 hr News Cycle and needing to keep people "entertained" 24 hrs a day across multiple channels, I am sorry, there should be some type of clearing house. A fact clearing house for anything that calls itself "News" . The stories should have to run this "fact clearing house" before it goes out to the masses, or at least explained to be an opinion. I would say the same should happen for campaign adds. I have no doubt that both sides take advantage of this. In all seriousness, if you want to entertain and have a main goal of making money, than this is a capitalist society, go for it, just don't call yourself "News". Be the Daily Show, or the Colbert Report....clearly meant to be comedy, although sometimes I feel I get a more accurate and honest perspective then from anywhere else....be Real Time with Bill Maher, or something else, but be honest in your goals and intentions.
In times where we are facing real issues with the Environment, the Economy, Health Care, etc. this is not the time to worry about ratings. This is not the time to worry about our base or worry about special interests and the money. If there is a real problem with Climate and Climate change and what, 96% of scientists now agree there is a change and humans have affected the rate of change, if everyone was finally able to agree on a scientific fact, I would like to think this is a world-wide effort everyone would need to work together on. Let's pretend for a moment that there is finally consensus on this (I still cannot believe we, as a country have disagreement on this). I am not trying to say that I know everything, because I certainly don't, but for things like this I trust the experts. I am a huge science fan, but not a scientist. When 96% of scientists are telling me there is a problem that we could try and make a difference on, chip away at, etc, I am sorry, they are the expert there. It isn't like there are huge pockets of people from other countries screaming differently. Most countries are light years ahead of us on this. Working on their carbon emissions, renewable energy and mass transit to name a few. This isn't some American conspiracy theory, I am sorry. Regardless, as someone who wants clean air and a NYC not under water for my possible future children, I want to do all I can to ensure how Earth is well taken care of. I would hope that everyone's main goal is to make things better. I sometimes feel like God himself could come down and say that Climate Change is real and humans have increased the rate of change and the right would then say that God was somehow brainwashed by MSNBC and Obama and it was all still a conspiracy. I feel like the ship is going to be headed down and people will still be denying there is a problem.
I guess part of the problem is that there are different definitions of "better." I feel like what it means to be an American means different things to different people. I have a different idea of what people should and should not expect once they are in America than most others. I am probably more idealistic than most and don't feel threatened or angry by other's being helped and supported, as some may. I feel like one of our other challenges is the difficulty we seem to have to look towards other countries and people for advice and help. There are other energy plans, economic plans, health care plans, mass transit plans, there are so many countries out there who have been around longer than we have that have tried different things. I hope we start looking outside more often and not be so afraid to say if we don't know and not be afraid to say we don't know what is best, but we are going to try this because we know there is a problem and we are going to try our best to remedy that problem.
This brings up my root argument again, sometimes we know there are problems, and we know what the root cause is, but we aren't sure what the best solution is. I would say, just tell us that. Let us know there is uncertainty instead of pitting people against each other and causing so much anger and attack and real divide in the country. Be honest and say, you know what, I don't agree with their idea and this is why (truthfully with facts) and then the other side can lay out their idea (truthfully with facts). There is no need to personally attack someone. Why can we not have civil debates, again, because that doesn't sell. Why can't we ask Presidential candidates tough questions and actually make them answer questions during debates, because they, somehow, have ensured we don't. If it happened, they probably wouldn't participate. I wish we could have a real debate, ask the candidates real questions and make them wear like lie detectors or something.....I feel like a lot of the difference is also philosophical. It sometimes isn't even about truth or lie, it is really about philosophy. What you feel the government should and should not provide, how you feel be should or should not be compensated. Whether or not you believe in the separation of church and state and religions role in society, in general.
Sometimes the problem is that there is no, one, true, answer. I feel like science is a bit different, but when it comes to economics, I feel like there are so many things that come into play. I don't know a ton about economic theory, but knowing that there are two very different views about size and involvement of government, raising revenue vs. cutting and austerity, in general, tells me that there are clearly different ways to think about the economy and that I honestly am not sure what is right and wrong--again I think it may all be philosophy here. I know what I agree with, philosophically, and I know looking back through history what seems to help and I know what I learn from those economists I listen to, but there is such a divide between what the two sides "believe" I feel like the truth has to lay somewhere in the middle? I am hoping it leans left, philosophically, but I am no economist.
So, now, back to my Utopian society where money is out of politics. Imagine a world, as Lessig does, where Citizens United does not interfere, where Cable news does not profit off of its sexy stories and where you can believe what you hear because you don't have to worry about your Congressmen or women's views being tainted by the money they receive from Big Oil, Phrama or Wall Street. Imagine a world where networks didn't feel like they had to compete with the 24 hr news cycle and stories were vetted and truth was clearly labeled as such as was opinion.
Imagine a world where our elected officials didn't win or lose an election based on how much money they raised, but because of their ability, ideas, message and experience. Imagine a world where all advertising had to be fact checked, as did all stories that would appear on any channel that had the word "news" in it. Imagine a wold where someone who isn't a millionaire could have just as much of a chance to get into office as all those millionaires and those bankrolled by millionaires. Imagine a world where our politicians didn't have to spend so much time campaigning and worrying about getting re-elected. Imagine a system where they could spend more time on the ground, in D.C. and getting work done.
I am sorry, I know there has been so much gridlock in Washington and it makes me so angry. I feel like we are watching a bunch of 3 years old that are saying loudly "nanananana, I am not listening and I want President Obama to fail." I am really trying not to make this political, because I feel like this is way too important to make this partisan, but I would have to say that even most Republicans would have to admit that there is clearly something going on, or heck, not going on. Let's face it, nothing is happening and nothing will happen until after the election. If President Obama is not elected, my liberal spiteful self almost hopes that we do the same thing to them, that they did to us. However, I know this isn't productive. There are too many important things that need to happen and there are going to be too many important issues coming up to not make a difference. We are electing our officials to make a difference, if that isn't what we are doing then there really is no point?
Imagine a world where someone's position on important matters like health care, medicare, education, regulation, energy, environment and taxes was not determined by their top donors, imagine a world where politicians could say what they truly believe to be best for the country without the fear of losing top donors and top dollars and lobbyists. I really hope we can get to this place somehow. Sadly, however, I cannot imagine it ever happening. There is just too much money in politics and elections and Citizens United is making things even worse. Not that things weren't bad before, but now Corporations can give unlimited amounts of money and not even need to disclose they are the donor.
As someone who took many science classes in high school and college, I learned the importance of doing my own research and looking into the details of studies conducted. If a cell phone company is bankrolling a study on whether cell phones are dangerous and they find there is no evidence of cell phones causing danger, I may be a bit more weary of the validity of that study. I will do more research and see what else I find out . What did other studies find and who were they funded by. Similarly, if a candidate running for President is receiving millions of dollars from Wall Street and they are all about scaling back regulations and give tax breaks to millionaires and I know they are getting a bunch of money, maybe I will be more weary of their stance. Maybe I will read what some economists say and do some research on-line and see what I can find out about regulation and how important it can be. The problem with Citizens United is that we do not even know where that money is coming from and what type of influence it may be having on our candidates. It also makes it hard to know what is truth and what is just talking points to keep their donors happy. It means we all need to do more research and not take everything we see and hear for fact.
I truly believe many of our current challenges with our political system could be improved if we could find a way to strike the root of the problem and find a way to get money out of politics and maybe even the media, not sure how that would be possible, ever?
Sex Education and a Women's Right to Choose:
I would say our political system isn't the only current issue that needs to be approached in this way. Similarly, I think the abortion debate also can be thought about with a rootstriker mentality. Once again, I feel like I need to tread lightly here as this is another very emotional, sensitive and passionate issue in our country. As a woman who is Pro Choice, I feel like the conversation is so one-dimensional. As I recently heard Hilary Clinton allude to the fact that while she is pro choice, she never heard anyone say that they like abortion. I would have to agree with her. I know we always hear about those instances where abortion is used "as a form of birth control." I am sorry, but I find it hard to believe that any rational person really feels like this. Sure, perhaps 2% of those women who get abortions "abuse" the procedure. However, I have no doubt that woman making this already difficult decision, a decision met with stress and anxiety and grief are not abusing anything. They have made the best decision for them and their bodies and I respect and would fight for their ability to choose.
All of this being said, the root of this challenge is that combating the need for women to have to get abortions is complex. In instances of incest, rape and danger to the mother, nothing can really be done about these issues. I like to think that as a society we can find a way to educate and punish enough to stop those instances of incest and rape, but I don't have much confidence in either. When we are talking about instances where a mother's life is in danger, other than medical advances, I am unsure if there is really a way to curtail those.
Areas where we can improve, I would say the first step is continuing to work on our country's ability to have real adult conversations about sex. I am not talking abstinence only talks, I am talking about real sex education. I am talking about teaching children from a young age about their bodies, empowering woman, teaching them about their bodies and teaching boys and girls about sex, the good, the bad and the ugly. It is about showing children from a young age that they are in control, how to protect themselves, what having sex can mean and why it is important to understand the responsibilities that come along with having sex. As as I have learned from working at The Children's Aid Society and learning more and more about Dr. Carrera's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, it is also about showing a child their potential. Making them realize all they can achieve that they are children at promise, instead of children at risk. Helping them come up with their own goals and realizing where, when and if they want to children to fit in. Imagine a world where everyone knew what could and could not get them pregnant. Imagine a world where everyone understood their own bodies and the biology and science behind pregnancy. Imagine how empowered our young men and women would be in this world. A world where they knew the risks, they knew how to protect themselves and they knew the responsibilities that came along with getting pregnant and having a baby. I know there is a religious argument that could be made here, however, there is a difference between having access to something and taking advantage of it yourself. No one is telling someone they have to have an abortion and if you believe is no sex until marriage, than I have no doubt that is what you will teach your children and your family. Again, I know a difficult subject....
For people who are pro life, I hope they are talking about the importance of education. I hope they realize that it is only through education that men and women can be educated not only about sex, but pregnancy, giving birth and alternatives, including keeping the baby, giving a baby up for adoption and having an abortion.
I also hope those that are pro life realize that a woman deciding to have an abortion is a difficult decision where much is considered. I can only assume another heavily weighed factor is their ability to provide for that child. This being said, perhaps it is also important for us as a society, to take better care of our mother's and their children. Once a teenager makes the decision to keep their baby, what kind of supports are there for that teen mom? Will she be supported to stay in school, will she be supported by the father of the baby, by her family, will she get the help she needs to provide for the child? I do not understand those people who are pro life, but then are against any and all government assistance and government aid. I do not understand how someone can be pro life, but then be against paid maternity leave, equal pay and affordable if not free, health care.
I feel like an unplanned pregnancy is not just about abortion. There are so many steps before someone gets pregnant. I feel like there is a real fear of open and honest conversations, I also feel like there are stigmas and lack of access that make it nearly impossible for some to family plan. Planned Parenthood does so much more than abortions, yet that is all some think of them for. There is so much complexity to a woman's reproductive system and there is a real need for education and family planning and equal access. If people were educated about their options before they started having sex, and were educated about the responsibilities and possibilities of a pregnancy and then their options if they had an unplanned pregnancy, I think the rate of abortions would continue to fall, in this category. Of course contraception is never 100% reliable, but again, I would not want to live in a country where a woman lost the right to choose, esp. when what, 85% of Congress are men, I am sorry, I doubt even 1/3 of them know anything about a women's anatomy and how it all "works." Before Roe vs. Wade, back in 1973, it isn't like abortions weren't happening, they were just happening in back rooms and people were getting seriously injured and dying. Not to say there aren't complications still, but I would never argue against the fact that a woman knows best what she wants for her body. There is a difference between people having the rights to something and you yourself personally taking advantage of that same thing. If you do not agree with it, that is your right, to disagree. That doesn't mean you have to personally have an abortion. I feel like until you walk a mile in someone else'e shoes, you do not know.
As the descendant of French, Canadian, Irish and English immigrants my stance on this issue is rather liberal. As a NYer, I cannot imagine our city and state without immigrants. I cannot imagine the workforce without these hardworking men and women who work harder for less, each and every day. I know all the arguments, "they drain our resources," "they steal our jobs," " they don't pay taxes," "they use our healthcare and education system for free" blah blah blah. I am sorry. I think this is another issue we need to take a step back on and think about.
Why are there so many illegal immigrants here? Is it really because there aren't more borders and patrol men down south? I would have to say "no."
I would say the main reason there are so many illegal immigrants here is because our agriculture, restaurant, homecare and construction industries needed them. I would say it is because we no longer have access to "legal slavery" and now have the next best thing (until we think we don't). They have workers readily available who will do an amazing job, for very little money. They will have access to workers who have no say, no voice and can cause no problems because they know they can scare them with deportation. It is our "fault" we have so many immigrants, it is the "fault" of all of those people who hired them. They may not have asked if they were legal or not, but they may of had a sneaking suspicion. I have put "fault" in quotes because I am grateful for all of them. I, again, cannot imagine NYC without their hard work, determination and grit.
Now, I cannot claim to fully understand the expenses that Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, etc experience with illegal immigration, but I am sorry, those that are here should not be penalized for taking advantage of a system that Americans created. Those that are here already and have been working hard for crap pay, no benefits and have been living in fear should have the opportunity to have their citizenship sponsored by those they work for. There should be some type of system set-up that allows them to be here legally. It is not their fault our system didn't make sense and totally took advantage of them, to only try and shut the door when they were just doing what we asked them to do for decades. This is ours to fix. Let's be honest and say that. Let's find a way to really look at immigration reform moving forward and find a way to really hash out what immigration reform should look like. I am not against that. I don't think the way the system works now is good for anyone? Well, maybe except those industries making out like bandits, but trying to wash their hands of the entire thing.
Let's find a way to grant those that are here amnesty, we needed your help and you gratefully accepted. Moving forward, let's find a way to ensure there are fair work conditions, pay, and that people don't have to live in such fear. Let's find a way to create a migrant worker program, moving forward, or another way to ensure people are able to, in the future, legally enter and exit the country. People getting killed and shot because they are looking for a better life for themselves and their children. I know, I know, I see all the Facebook posts about what happens on the borders of all of those other countries, Iran, Iraq, etc. But folks, lets remember, we are America and last time I checked, most people thought we were "better" than them??
Let's find a way to set-up a system where a fair days work is worth a fair days pay. Where people have rights, where they cannot be overworked, or abused and they no longer live in fear of speaking up. This is a problem for illegal immigrants professional and personally. Many are afraid to approach the cops if they are being harrassed, abused, etc in fear of deportation.
I know it gets much more money and ratings and donors to scream and scream about illegal immigrants, but I am sorry, it doesn't solve anything.
This is going to be quick. I truly believe the root of the healthcare issue is that in the United States healthcare is tied to employment. This sets up a system to "award" those that work for certain types of companies and allow employers to offer "perks" to their employees. I am sorry, I just don't think that healthcare should be tied to employment at all. I am personally for universal health care, even knowing there appear to be some "problems" or challenges with this system. I assume no system is perfect, but at least if you were to lose your job or not have a job, you would still have access to health care. I honestly believe that healthcare should be a right not a privilege.
You always hear about "our tax dollars" paying for people who don't have insurance. Well, imagine if that wasn't a problem. If everyone had insurance. Someone's illness would never cause them to need to make the difficult decision of whether to buy food, or their medicine. A terminal illness would never again cause bankruptcy or foreclosure. I am sorry, but it is awful that we live in the United States of America and people go bankrupt because they have cancer, or diabetes, or liver disease. It really makes me sick (no pun intended). There has to be a better way. I believe money is also highly wrapped up in this problem and why it is so hard to get a real conversation going. People are worried about how their own livelihood would be affected by such changes, how they may lose income, patients, how insurance companies may lose out or win. I totally get that, I totally understand the desire to fight for what you have worked so hard for. I also really believe we are not going to survive if we continue this "I" mentality.
So, I say we do some studies and hard core research of other countries and their healthcare systems and find best practices (SWAT analysis if you will). I say we then find a way, to as quickly as possible, separate healthcare from employment.
Sometimes I feel like this argument is a media fabricated one. I feel like we all have to like raise our right hands and swear we are not trying to take away anyone's "right" to own a gun. We then need to resurrect the founders and ask them what they meant. Easy peasy, right? I say that a zombie Jefferson or Franklin would be totally awesome!
Seriously though, if we are going to take the 2nd Amendment for what is was intended to mean then we need to define Militia and we need to all do a reality check about what types of weapons were available when it was drafted. We also have to have a reality check moment and know that the founders expected the constitution to be adjusted and they even set up the system for allowing amendments. They knew it would need to be interpreted, possibly more than it should have. They also, I assume, would be like "duh" how could we have known about the Internet and magazine clips?
I do agree there needs to be a ban on assault weapons (for the average citizen) and I also do believe there should be a background, mental health check on those purchasing guns. I also do believe in waiting periods. I cannot even imagine an instance when one needs a gun, immediately, unless they are planning to do something "bad" with it.
I just feel like when people are armed, out in the world, if and when an argument arises, it becomes too easy to fire. I cannot imagine attending college on a campus where people are allowed to carry. I also feel like anyone that feels like they need to kill a deer with an assault weapon has their own issues. I am sure money, lobbyists and the NRA are also at the heart of this one.....
So, what is the root cause here, I think fear and access. Not quite sure how you address these. Maybe if we got money out of politics, created a clearing house for the news and everyone had access to government services and healthcare, there wouldn't be as much violence? I know some say there will always be violence, human nature and such, but I cannot imagine there cannot be some ways to curtail senseless acts of violence. Maybe ramping up our mental health services and getting rid of some of the stigma and background checks and waiting periods? I am not sure how you get illegal guns off the streets? That comes back to money....so make it somehow more profitable to not sell guns. Whatever the opposite of selling guns would be....
There are so many issues we are facing as a country and as a world. I can only dream of a day where we are more worried about solving our problems and leaving the world better for the next generation than making money and getting elected. I look forward to years of adult conversations, civil disagreement and honesty. Again, I am not trying to be divisive, I just realize more and more that our arguments and disagreements are often not about the real root problems, often not even based in facts or reality and I am just hoping we can someday get to a place where that is not the case.
Coming up next:
Morals and ethics in an ever polarized world
And thats all she wrote...