Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Panama Canal Gets a Boob Job

If that made you look it says something about us both. But how freakin’ boring does it sound to say Panama Canal Gets Breast Augmentation? Of course, then it’s all downhill from there.

It’s actually an interesting story. Not, perhaps, the way I’ll tell it. But if you’ll suspend your judgment and just pretend everything I’m saying is somehow magically fascinating then you’ll be fascinated…See? Smile and you’ll be happy, that sort of thing.

Let’s see…Read this part quickly and I might be able to hang on to you… Nigh on 100 year ago, back in a simpler time, there was some diggin’. I guess it goes back farther than that, to two French attempts that ended in disease and failure. The United States took over the Panama Canal project in 1904, and completed it in 1914. Here is an interesting perception of the US from that time, surprising given the opinion of the US throughout the World today:

“It is to the lasting credit of the Americans that they have turned a pest-hole into one of the healthiest places on the continent. The mosquito has been banished, yellow fever is now unheard of, and the death-rate of the Isthmus is lower than that of the average American city. Not only has the health of the men making the canal been cared for, but a revolution has been effected in the sanitary arrangements of the cities and towns of the Isthmus. This is an accomplishment more creditable to the American Government than any mere engineering feat could be. A civilised state could show its greatness in no better manner than by taking this wide and humane view of its responsibilities.”
-"The Magellan Times", 8-VII-1914

Yes, we were cool back then. A real get up and go spirit. The canal afforded us the opportunity to increase trade and for our navy to more easily and effectively patrol both sides of our continent. It proved invaluable during WWII. Yes it was a tad bit empirialistic. But if you’re going to be a bitch, be a bitch with style. It really was the friendliest face of empirialism ever known.

Well, time passed, this, that and the other thing happened. People got angry because we parked our military in the middle of their country and took all the money from the canal…we had to give it back. We still get to use it. But we just can’t own it. Thanks Jimmy Carter for being all moral and ethical.

OK…I feel like I’m losing you. I’m trying to avoid as many of the boring facts and dates as possible: Like 1977 when Carter signed the treaty with Panamanian President Omar Torrijos, agreeing to give back the canal by the year 2000, Or the invasion of Panama to oust the dangerous dictator Manuel Noriega who apparently declared war against the United States and was always invading other countries like he invaded uh…hmmm…like…and…well… somebody said he was dangerous that’s good enough for me. After all, we were all of a sudden tired of paying him to be our ally and letting him sell dope. And who knew him better than the former head of the CIA who signed his checks. Thanks George Sr.

Now, I ask you, where is the style in that?

I bet, assuming you’ve read this far, you’re wondering “why is this fella’telling me all this stuff about some old ditch in Panama?” No, it has nothing to do with Van Halen.

I know I should be talking about the royal wedding more. I know I should be worried about North Korea, because John Bolton assures us we need to bomb Iran to stop North Korea…did I say that right? Yes, that was it. But for those who have already left us and our little story, they’re about to miss the exciting part. Well…at least slightly thrilling…or if neither of those, at least it’s important... and relevant.

You see, the Panama Canal was a game changer, in more ways than one. It was, whatever your political views as to correctness, an indicator of the United States’ hemispherical superiority (I’m assuming you know what I mean by that). It represented the unified approach of American business, its social and its political interests, while at it’s inception providing us with a positive image in the World. It profited us in almost every way and paid for itself many, many, many times over.

But time marches on. Now it comes to pass that shipping has changed dramatically, populations have grown and China is quickly becoming the fastest growing market on the whole planet. They are competing with us in trade overseas, and here on our own shores. They are seeking out partnerships with countries, competing with us for petroleum and stealing our valuable shoe making jobs (now that joke would have been funny, in a rude sort of way, about ten years ago. But now they’re making more than just tennis shoes and firecrackers). Even though a good many of the products that are made in China have come under fire for safety reasons, creative property theft, patent infringement and more, they are selling boatloads, yes, boatloads. Now that brings us to the canal.

Americans consume…we thirst and hunger and devour the Earth. We want more and more and more. The size of the ships heading out from Asia has grown. They can’t fit through the Panama Canal anymore. So here comes the boob job. It actually isn’t a boob job at all, of course. But it’s a make over at least. The Panama Canal is being increased in size to let the big ships through (do an Internet search if you’re interested in the details, too many to hit here). So goods that normally would have been dropped at a port in California can now “steam” right on over to the East Coast and cut out the West Coast railroads. Hmmm. Now that could be a game changer. And just as we are looking to upgrade our railroads and thinking high speed commuter trains, there comes an industry shift. It doesn’t necessarily mean the West Coast railroads will drop out of the game. They have foreseen the change and are trying to strike deals to lower their rates and keep their business. But East Coast railroads, trucking companies and ports are gearing up to receive the possible increase in traffic. No one can say for sure what might happen.

Then, being the Liberal tree hugger that I am, I have to bring up the Northwest Passage, the shipping route above Canada which, up until the effects of global warming, froze and became impassable in the winter months. That might seem like a benefit of global warming. Obviously I’m not allowed to say there are any benefits though, because ultimately global warming will cause so many serious problems we can’t praise it. I will just assume you’re intelligent enough to know that. Although these waterways are increasingly passable they give rise to other issues. Canada claims the waters to be Canadian, while America claims them to be international. What are you going to do? It’s all part of an uncertainty in near future trading that will change things. Some people will argue that it has to be great for the American consumer because it will mean cheaper goods. We’ve been hearing that for a while. How’s that working for everyone?

As for Alabama, we won’t see much change directly. The port of Mobile has already grown rapidly and Mobile Bay can’t handle the size ships we’re talking about anyway. Indirectly, as our economy heats up, who can say? The Chinese sell their goods faster and cheaper, then Chinese consumers have more money to spend on cars, then the Chinese secure more agreements with petroleum rich countries, then we go to the Conoco down the street and pay an extra couple of dollars for gas because of supply and demand, and speculators.

Things are changing. Our leaders lack the strategic foresight and vision of leaders past. So what do we do? The American consumers can do what they do so well. Bitch! We can’t help it. It’s part of our heritage. The best we can do about that is, if we’re going to be a bitch, for God’s sake, let’s be a bitch with style.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Public Health is a Public Issue: On the Healthcare Debate

The nature of modern society in so many different ways has given Americans much more freedom and control. Of course, it has brought new challenges as well.

Imagine walking down the street on your way back from your lunch break. Suddenly you hear your name and see an old acquaintance from college coming your way. You shake hands and ask how he’s been. He explains that he just returned from Asia where he was working on an exciting new project. After a few minutes of catching up you say your farewells and start to walk away. From behind you, you hear him sneeze. These encounters happen all the time. People travel so much more quickly from place to place than has ever been possible before. And along with them comes all the rest of their experience, from bed bugs to flu bugs.

We are required to spend so much up close time with other people on a day to day basis that there is no way to avoid every bug or potential contagion. It isn’t possible for people to just stay home and avoid the world. And it shouldn’t have to be. Contagious diseases are a part of life and probably will be for a long time, if not forever. But as a society we have the means to deal with them and have pulled together many times in the past to do so. In fact, generations past would surely balk at the lost potential of not securing the health of the general populace since we have the means.

Now say you’re coming out of work and a man approaches you asking you to take a survey. You oblige, finish and head off for a few beers with friends before going home. The man giving the survey happens to work contract labor and carries no health insurance. He also has TB. It could be any number of diseases endemic to any society. The problem is that he is still walking around, untreated, because he does not have the means to acquire health insurance. He could go to the Health Department and get treated. But he doesn’t feel bad, does not even know he has TB. And he was very friendly by the way.

We have to go into public. We have to deal with each other. Life has to go on. Modern society dictates certain necessities of interaction that we are powerless to avoid.

If the right pathogen creeps out of the right jungle mutates just the right way and hops on the right flight…Bam…there you go! And it happens all the time. So these are important questions to ask when considering whether or not the government should or should not have any say in health care. A well maintained health care system which allows the general populace to control their own health issues better seems more like an ounce of prevention compared to the tons of cost by not proactively addressing public health. The Republicans never brought this up when in charge. Hopefully now, as they return to power, they will be forced to do something. Or at the least, do nothing to hurt the solutions put in place by the Democratic Congress.

Just a link-

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why I'm a gun toting, strict Constitutionalist, Liberal.

It's important to put your cards on the table. Unfortunately in the information game that's why Liberals lose out so often. There is no concerted, organized effort to rival the right wing propaganda machine as it exists today. By openly and honestly expressing ourselves and hoping for a fair exchange of ideas Liberals open themselves up for constant defeat. It can't be helped in most cases. We value freedom and Democracy, along with a respect for the modern ideals of fairness and equal rights that cannot rival the single minded, strategic onslaught of the far Right machine. This machine shamelessly harnesses what should be noble and virtuous attributes of American values by distortion, manipulation and misdirection.

A constant and concerted misinformation campaign pours out minute by minute by Right-wing media outlets with the obvious flagship being Fox News. It's not fair to say conservative values don't run deep in America. On the contrary, many Liberals hold certain conservative values close to their heart. Given the inherent openness to ideas and commitment to freedom of thought cherished by Liberals, they are "allowed" to embrace many differing ideas. Nor is it fair to say that Conservatives, by design, must be closed to diversity. It just seems like, more often than not they have to deny this until they "get caught".

Several points must be addressed to understand the truth about Liberal philosophy.

Point 1- What is a Liberal?

Liberal: (from the Latin liberalis, "of freedom")[1] is the belief in the importance of individual liberty and equal rights.[2] Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, free trade, and the separation of church and state. These ideas are widely accepted, even by political groups that do not openly profess a liberal ideological orientation. Liberalism encompasses several intellectual trends and traditions, but the dominant variants are classical liberalism, which became popular in the eighteenth century, and social liberalism, which became popular in the twentieth century. (from Wikipedia)

Point 2-Do Liberals respect the Constitution?

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. (from Article VI or The Constitution of The United States of America.)

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment clearly provides that States are by necessity bound to the same laws with regard to personal freedom as laid out by Federal law. Attempting to protect children from prayers which might not represent them in schools where they are forced to go by law, by the government, is clearly in line with the intent of the Establishment Clause and a perfectly righteous cause.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The Right-wing propaganda machine would have people believe that Liberals want to take away their guns. Direct your attention to the words "well regulated". The idea that preventing the sale of assault rifles or registering weapons is unconstitutional is unfounded.

Read the Constitution carefully. It clearly lays out the powers and the limits of government. The debate over certain aspects of the recent Health Care bill raises certain questions about the constitutionality of certain Liberal ideas. Is it over-reaching to consider the protections of public health when debating the Health Care Bill? Can public health, as set by precedent from past decisions, be an area for government involvement? Is there anything in the Constitution that expressly prohibits federal requirement of health care purchase by individuals? Since corporations are entities granted existence and regulated by the government, can we set out to control them and regulate their power?

If we could get back to honest debate...which is clearly not the situation these days, we could let the democratic process flourish and continue to move forward, leading the World in ideas, not just economically and militarily. This is why I'm a gun toting Liberal, strict Constitutionalist. I do not agree with all the ideas of the current flock of Democrats. I would love to stand up to much of what they are pushing. But the alternatives of now are unacceptable. The blind followers of Fox news and the Right-wing propaganda machine have devolved the political landscape for years with inflammatory rhetoric and untruths. Even for those who agree with some of the goals of the new Conservatives it's unfortunate that they are allowing the ends to justify the means.