The James Website

Guns N’ Illness: Part 1

My stance on school shootings is that there is no problem with gun violence in schools, so nothing needs to change and everything is just fine…

…says nobody.

Much the same as I did in A Non-Crazy View of…”Obamacare”, I like to open a discussion with something absolutely everybody agrees on: There is a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or conservative or Christian or atheist or whatever — all of us agree there is most definitely a problem. We Americans are united on this conclusion. Isn’t that some good news to open with?

With this common ground established, then, let us respect in each other that we only differ on how to solve the problem. That’s ok. Disagreement is good. Disagreement and debate are how we sort through multiple partial solutions in order to reach a more complete, truly effective solution.

Because there’s a lot to discuss here, I’ll restrict today’s entry to the liberals’ solution of gun control. Next round, we can talk about the conservatives’ focus on mental illness.

Before moving forward, I want to get an unfortunately necessary disclaimer out of the way so that the discussion can’t be derailed by the distraction this truth brings:

Partisan Politics is Broken

Yes, there are clearly and unquestionably Republicans who’s successful bids for office were thanks in large part to the National Rifle Association (NRA) lining their pockets. This means the politics on the public stage get bent toward the moneyed interests of the NRA instead of the interest of constituent voters (regardless of how much the two align or don’t). The Democrats have the exact same weighted dice in other arenas. Politics on the public stage is largely the voice of money and, depressingly, more theater than problem-solving.

This post is not about that, because to discuss/debate topics on that foundation is an exercise in futility and exactly why Facebook debates on such topics run about in endless, exhausting circles. Instead, what this post is about is how we can start to collectively address this problem ourselves. Despite the reality of moneyed politics, we do still have some degree of influence on our representatives, and that influence grows stronger the more locally you focus. You might not have the ear of the President, but you can much more easily pester your City Council or local school board.

With this in mind, when I talk about conservatives and liberals, I’m not talking about Paul Ryans and Nancy Pelosis. I’m talking about you. I often find that Democrats and Republicans I meet in person are far more nuanced and thoughtful than their talking head counterparts on TV. In other words, and more so than ever under our current President, I regard public, media-covered politics as theater and everyday engagement with people around me as reality.

You with me, liberal and conservative friends? Then with that out of the way, let’s engage this topic properly.

They’ll Just Do It Anyway

So I’m going to begin approaching this aspect of the topic by establishing a presupposition: With laws, we are only ever reducing the probability of violence, not removing it. To expect there to come a day in the foreseeable future where every single last person is guaranteed to never harm children en masse on school grounds again is an exercise in the absurd. Instead, we try to make it harder to accomplish the goal of shooting up a school so as to reduce the frequency of such incidents. For now, that is the best we can do, but that alone is a pretty darn big step forward. Fair enough? So keep this foundational idea in mind as we trudge through this muddy water.

First, let’s address the extremes. “Making guns illegal will only ensure that only the bad guys have guns” is a short-sighted, ridiculous argument, unless you’re an anarchist. By that logic, murder should be legal because murderers are criminals by definition and will thus break the law and murder anyway. But no, that’s not how laws work. Laws are not made based on an assumption that criminals will obey them. That’s not why we pass laws. Instead, the idea is that the harder it is to get (certain types of) guns, the more hoops the would-be shooter has to jump through, and hopefully, ideally, this rise in difficulty will prevent some from succeeding. Yes, criminals can use the black market, but not every criminal has ready access to the black market. The black market is harder to access than, say, Wal-Mart.

Let me stress again: The idea is not that a new law will make “criminals” stop because now it’s illegal. It’s about manipulating probability by raising the difficulty.

Good Guy With a Gun

This is an interesting argument, and I have to confess it appeals to me on some level. This is a curious reverse solution of the liberals’ pitch for tighter gun control in that the conservative argument is to arm more “good guys” so they can fight back. This shouldn’t be wholly dismissed; concealed carry training and better yet, veteran police officers and soldiers with experience bring some real defense to the table. Returning to the idea of manipulating probability, it makes sense that this could serve as a deterrent, again “raising the difficulty” and hopefully weeding out some would-be shooters.

There is, unfortunately, a problem with this: Defense by its very nature is a reactive solution. A police officer or trained civilian cannot spring into action until after something has happened. Awesome as our defenders may be, they are not clairvoyant, and some police officers will caution you that police don’t show up typically until after the crime occurred. We do not live in the world of Minority Report. What this means is that an armed response is a response to something that has already happened — at earliest, a would-be shooter pulling out his gun, but more likely (as was the case with last week’s shooting), they cannot respond until after one or more innocent people have been slain.

It’s thus critically important that while this is a solution, it is a solution that minimizes the body count after the fact; it does not prevent the attack.

One may argue, however, that such a solution would also serve to deter. Who is going to open fire with armed security present, or better yet, armed civilians all around? This question overlooks the ongoing pattern of these shootings: they are murder-suicides. An attacker who goes in ready, expecting, and even desiring to die is absolutely not going to be deterred by anyone else being armed.

I know a number of people with concealed carry licenses, and I do feel safer around them. They know what they’re doing, are well trained, and have a real, deep compassion for defending innocents. This should not go ignored, and while I do not believe the “good guy with a gun” is a solution unto itself, I am open-minded about it being a component of a larger solution.

Note: I am omitting from this discussion the idea of everyone being armed willy-nilly. It should be obvious that responding to an active shooter by starting a Michael-Bay-style gunfight is only going to introduce friendly fire to the mix. This helps no one. Instead, I am willing to be open to not so much the idea of the “good guy with a gun” but the “very well trained professional good guy with a gun”.

There is nonetheless a grave risk inherent to this solution: even trained humans make mistakes. Innocents can still be caught in the crossfire. Again, remember, I am framing this as manipulating probability, and this is one variable in that equation. We are balancing the probability of an armed attacker along with the probability of an armed responder’s ability to spring into action without making severe mistakes.

The Liberal Solution: Gun Control

I want you to keep one core idea in mind as you consider the liberal approach to this topic: liberalism is based on the root word “liberty”, so a liberal more often than not tends to seek solutions that preserve one’s liberty. You may find this contradictory in the current context since gun control is obviously restricting liberty, but the key here is to recognize the catch 22 at play: the liberty to own whatever guns one pleases vs. the liberty to live free of the threat of violence.

The liberal is faced with the dilemma of trying to restrict one liberty to preserve another liberty, thus weighing one liberty as intrinsically more important than the other.

There is a myth I want to clear up here: some conservatives have long feared that liberals want to take guns away from everyone. This is incorrect and a misunderstanding that really spread like wildfire during the Obama years. Liberals do not want to take all guns away from all people. Yes, there will always be exceptions, and I’m sure there are some on the far-left fringe who do want to go that far, but they are not representative of mainstream liberalism, at least here in the U.S.

Instead, the liberal typically wants to tighten the boundaries on gun ownership. This usually means banning weapons that are designed to kill multiple targets in a short amount of time, i.e. automatic and/or semi-automatic weapons. The liberal is thus largely uninterested in your shotgun or hunting rifle mounted in the back of your pickup truck. This is a common misunderstanding of the liberal approach, but pause and consider for a moment: you don’t have any old-timey pictures of an AR-15 mounted in the back window of your pickup truck, do you?

The liberal is usually only interested in the type of guns that keep appearing in actual mass shootings. I would ask that regardless of your own views, that you at least give them credit here that if nothing else, on the surface this seems to make sense, at least to the layman. If “Object A” makes an appearance every time a bunch of people are gunned down, then there’s some logic to turning one’s attention specifically to “Object A”. The liberal thinks that if automatic rifles can be removed from the open market, then our would-be shooters — at least those without shady backroom connections — are left to open fire on groups of people with their shotgun or hunting rifle, which likely isn’t going to yield the same result.

(Note: There is some important discussion going on out there about how certain types of weapons are severely misunderstood by laymen, especially the AR-15. This is beyond the scope of this post only because I can only cram so much into one post at the moment. I ask instead that you grant some empathy and if nothing else, understand the layman’s point of view for the time being. Of course, this nuance does need to be addressed in full, though I doubt I’m able to do the topic justice myself.)

They’re Coming for Mah Guns!

So now what do we conclude? Is it time to implement some restrictions on gun ownership? If so, how far do we go with implementing restrictions, and how much is too much?

There’s a lot more to discuss here, so let’s pause here and digest what’s on the table at this point, then return to this topic in the next installment. I want to address other dimensions of this debate such as mental illness, the liberty of the responsible gun owner, the American-specific concept of a self-governing people necessarily being a self-armed people, and possibly other factors I may have neglected thus far.

For now, I hope I’ve made the case that no matter how you decide to approach this topic, there is no clean, simple, easy answer. We need to get away from constantly villainizing each other and instead at least recognize that though we may be on radically different paths toward a solution, we are all trying to find a solution. We all care about this. We all want to fix this. Let’s not forget our common ground.

My Political Stance, Part Two: Uh, Forget Part One?

The whole point to my writing these entries on here is mostly theraputic. I have no grandiose delusions of actually being a notable blogger or embuing anyone with actual legitmate wisdom; rather, I want and need to practice writing and organizing my internal thoughts.

So that said, my last entry two months ago was really, really bad.

But that’s ok — it served its purpose to me at the time. My mistake was to try to approach my own disjointed lack of a political stance and try to outline what my political stance was, which proved to be an exercise in futility, first and foremost because I simply just didn’t know what I was talking about. I tried to approach a complex political science topic as a layman very much not versed in the political sciences.

So with no further adieu, I present to you:

My Political Stance (Revised!): Part Only: I’m Stuck (Spoiler!)

Here’s the deal guys — This is what I know I’m not at the moment:

I’m not a conservative. Change is the very spice of life. Being stuck in “the way things have always been” never ends well. Older is not superior to younger. I’m not going to literal hell for challenging old ideas. I do think traditions can be good and I do think tossing traditions and old established tidbits of wisdom out the window willy-nilly is certainly throwing the baby out with the bath water, but I don’t think that alone qualifies me as any kind of actual conservative. Above all, I am bothered by conservatism’s tendency to lean toward some flavor of authoritarianism.

I’m not a progressive. At least I don’t think I am? I don’t actually know what a progressive actually is. Seriously, not kidding here. It’s a topic that I find the more I research it, the less I think I actually get it. I do believe in equality for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or whatever other sub-category of people you can think up. I admire plenty of progressive folks. I believe we’re better off embracing change and the future instead of planting our feet squarely in the past (and our heads in the sand), but I don’t think that necessarily makes me a progressive. Above all, I worry that progressivism might suffer an error of how more so than an error of what; I fear it may be short-sighted, unaware of possible authoritarian consequences of some of its mechanisms.

I still stand by my conclusion in Part 1 that I’m probably some flavor of classical liberal. I do fiercely believe in the freedom and autonomy of the individual. I am passionately anti-authoritarian; however, I also recognize some authority (ideally a bare minimum) guards us from a hazardous Wild West anarchy. For example, if you want to marry the same sex, two people, five people, the state of Virginia, or a cardboard cutout of President James A. Garfield, you should be free to have at it — just as long as you don’t pester me about it and allow me the same freedom to do my own thing. On the other hand, I worry about the long-term consequences of classical liberalism run a muck (or perhaps libertarianism) resulting in our society’s inability to ever achieve anything majorly significant while we’re wildly on entirely different pages. It took more than a handful of people to win the space race, after all.

So there you have it. I have no flipping clue what the heck I am because I have issues with literally everybody, apparently.

This is, in summation, why I more often than not refer to myself as a moderate or at most, a moderate somewhere on the liberal spectrum. I mostly want the government to stay out of our business, but protect our rights. Assist those in need, but not lord over us. Let us rule ourselves, but not to the point where we each individually wander off into an ironically collective oblivion. Rid society of the evils of prejudice, but not by forced homogeneity.

I do want to point out one very important detail here, though: note my stances outlined here have nothing to do with who I hate. I have been referring to ideas, not people.

I don’t feel I really have a place to fit in, here in today’s political climate.

My Political Stance: TL:DR Version (Part One)

Anytime I weigh in on politics on Facebook — which I try to keep to a minimum, as Facebook is hardly the medium for thoughtful discourse — I almost always tell people “I’m neither liberal  nor conservative” and/or “I’m a moderate”. That is partly true, at least best I can figure, but the breadth of my stance (and probably many folks’ stances) is far more nuanced. So, for anyone bored enough to be interested, here’s where I actually stand on all things politics. It’s long, complicated, and nuanced all over the place, so today’s entry will simply be Part One with more to follow.

(Disclaimer: My stances have evolved over time and likely will continue doing so as I become more educated in topics and learn to clean up my verbiage. This and related entries will either be updated or appended as time goes on, accordingly. Also, I’m totally am amateur on this topic and may not entirely know what I’m talking about.)

So today I’ll get the first obvious question out of the way:

Liberal or Conservative?

I’m both to varying degrees, but I lean more liberal. The problem is most Americans conflate liberal with Democrat and conservative with Republican, but that is not an apples-to-apples alignment.

I am a liberal in that I believe fiercely in the unalienable rights of the individual. I believe each individual is a unique person with unique beliefs who should be fully free to express, pursue, and advocate for those beliefs as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others.

I’m pretty down with classical liberalism. I am passionate about civil liberties and economic freedom for all. “Live and let live” without the government deciding for us how the individual should live their lives, and provide economic freedom for all individuals to pursue their own endeavors without having to belong to a nobility or special class in order to access such opportunities.

I’m also a conservative (I think?), but I disagree with the broad definition of American conservative presented via Wikipedia, which is:

a broad system of political beliefs in the United States that is characterized by respect for American traditions, support for Judeo-Christian values, free speech, moral absolutism, economic liberalism, anti-communism, advocacy of American exceptionalism, and a defense of Western culture from threats posed by ‘creeping socialism’, moral relativism, multiculturalism and liberal internationalism.

I disagree with half of that list (I underlined above that which I do not believe), so I don’t know what that means for my idea of conservatism. My understanding of my flavor of conservatism is I believe in preserving those traditions which define our history but are not harmful to anyone. For example, I think maintaining the structure of government as outlined in the Constitution is a really good idea, but I’m really glad the age-old tradition of slavery (which, needless to say, was extremely harmful) is over. I’m for slow, gradual, thoughtful change as the default setting when time is not of the essence. The abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement are examples of when time is not a luxury and change must happen swiftly, but when those aren’t the kind of stakes on the table, I’m all for slow change just so that we’re careful not to forget who we are and where we came from — and more importantly, so that we know exactly what change we’re bargaining for and for what  ultimate purpose at the given moment before we pass a point of no return where “oops” is too late to say in the face of the unforeseen consequences.

I’m for conserving the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I don’t know of any modern body of American conservatives I’d touch with a ten-foot pole (the Tea Party creeps the crap out of me), so I really don’t know what kind of conservative, if any, that leaves me to be at this point.

Here’s where it gets really muddy: I propose what is liberal and conservative is mostly defined by the point in time the question is asked.  With this in mind, I might be a conservative liberal, but I don’t fully agree with what’s outlined in the linked description there, either.

What do I mean by defined by the point in time? I mean that during the time of the American Revolution, the idea of denying a monarchy and establishing a country of self-rule of the people was wildly liberal. Then, the conservative stance was to side with the long-established monarchy, which was to adhere to a very firmly grounded tradition at the time. Yet today, conservatives by and large claim to advocate for the preservation of individual freedom, private property, and rule of the people, which today is to hold to long-held tradition and the established system. So in other words, I propose what is liberal today is conservative tomorrow, at least in terms of the liberal ideas that stick.

For these reasons, when speaking in the shorthand, I tell people I’m moderate, but even that word is problematic. There isn’t a well-defined “middle” line that if you cross it from one direction, you’re conservative, and if you cross from the other, you’re liberal. It’s a spectrum, so “moderate” is to say “somewhere in between those two extremes”, which, in truth, I would argue most of the populace resides on. But what other concise way is there to say “quite a bit of this, a little of that”?

I could go on for a few more hours on this question alone, but I think this is a sufficient start, for now. For Part Two, I’ll delve into where I stand on the “Left or Right?” question (which, no, it’s not the same question).

“For Those Who Raised Us”

I’ve been, for some time now, wanting to write in-depth about a deep sense of betrayal I’ve personally felt from the Republican party and the Western church.  I have not been able to focus enough yet to put thoughts into words, but I did (randomly) stumble across another blogger who captured my feelings with uncanny accuracy.   I think a lot of us who grew up conservative can relate to this:

A Message for those in Power – for those who raised us

I do not know anything about the author.  I’ll pen my own thoughts when I finally manage to get them properly organized.

(There is one line I didn’t understand: “And NOW, they turn around, and label what we are doing as ‘Nationalistic’. We call these actions in ‘America’s’ best interest.”  In context of the rest of the message, this sentence would have made more sense if it read, “And NOW, we turn around, and label what they are doing as ‘Nationalistic’. They call these actions in ‘America’s’ best interest.”   I might have totally misread it due to my own bias.)


Comment Policy: Nasty arguments are for Facebook. Debates are great, but keep it polite and civil.  Who decides what’s polite and civil?  Me.  This is my site and I fashion myself a benevolent dictator.  I reserve the right to delete comments and block folks with or without warning, for any reason.

A Non-Crazy View of…Immigration

Remember when Reagan advocated amnesty for illegal immigrants and open borders?

Rather than […] talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here, and when they want to go back, they can go back, and […] open the border both ways […]

The above is taken from a 1980 debate between Reagan and Bush Sr. Both 1980s conservatives would be regarded as bleeding heart progressive globalists by today’s standards…perhaps paid off by Soros for bonus points.   And one of these two men is the dude one of our political parties has all but elevated to sainthood.

He had more thoughts on the topic later in 1984:

Because people are losing their minds over the topic nowadays, I’m going to discuss immigration.  This is a weird topic to me, and I disagree with pretty much everybody on it.  I like to think this is because the “views” presented today in media are extreme caricatures that misrepresent the issue.


Americans Like Multiplying

What I find really, really bizarre about the form the topic has taken today is that we seem to have forgotten that we have always been about Americans promoting American values and inviting more people to become Americans because that has a net result of more Americans.  More little flags in more little yards.  More workers for more jobs.  More democracy.  More voices singing quaint little patriotic songs as eagles soar overhead.  Remember when we were all about anybody and everybody packing up and coming over because even if your life to this point sucked — especially if it sucked — we’d take you in because once you become an American, we’ll make you awesome?

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The idea has always been that every incoming immigrant is just a new American in the making, a proud new convert to the world’s shining city on a hill.

I honestly can’t imagine any modern context employing the words “wretched refuse” that wouldn’t end with building a wall.  Today, we’re trying to make America great “again”, which is confusing given that…


Isn’t the U.S. of A. the Cat’s Pajamas?

Or, to borrow a phrase I hear over and over again on a certain conservative talk radio show, “the greatest nation on God’s green Earth”?  (As an aside, how can it not be great and be the greatest simultaneously?)  I grew up being led to believe we’re kind of a big deal.  We’re the leader of the free world.  Home of the American Dream.  Big houses with picket fences.  Home-runs and hamburgers and 401k’s and everyone has two Hummers in their driveway…

Yet we get pissed off because other people want to bail and head over our way?  Heaven forbid someone want to live a better life here.  And for those especially desperate, given their far worse states in extremely non-American lesser countries devoid of flashy little flags in front yards, can we blame them for throwing caution to the wind and trying to make it into the Dream however fastest they can, be it legal or not?  Would you not be tempted to fudge the rules if you were stuck on the other side?  How is it we’re not excited about how flipping eager they are to abandon their homeland and slap “made in America” on their foreheads?

That’s not to say I’m proposing we go “screw it, anything goes now”.


You Can’t Ignore Laws

We can’t ignore laws.  If we could, then we could just will-nilly do whatever we darn well pleased, because the words of the law would just be arbitrary letters on paper, such as the letters on the paper of “8 U.S. Code § 1182 – Inadmissible aliens“:

An alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled, or who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General, is inadmissible.

That one sentence is really what the whole mess boils down to.  That is the letter of the law and that law is settled, so we have to obey it.  That’s how laws work.  So if someone crosses the border in any way other than that which is “designated by the Attorney General” (which is to say, dudes in suits), then they have broken the law, and can’t hang out with us.

But wait!  That law is unjust, deporting parents and breaking up families, you racist fascist!  Well, hold on, that’s jumping the gun.  I said that’s the law and we have to enforce the law else laws mean nothing.  I didn’t say it was right.  As the infamous Edward Snowden would be quick to remind you, legal does not always mean moral.

What we can’t do is expect law enforcers to just pretend this law doesn’t exist.  What we can do is debate the moral rightness/wrongness of the law, then advocate for changing that law if necessary.  You can push for the judicial branch to strike down the law or the legislative branch to change the law.  Is that fair to illegal immigrants here?  No.  Do I wish it was?  Yes.  Does anyone care what I think?  No chance in hell.  You have to change the law; ignoring it is not a solution.


The Law is a Mess

I propose the heart of the problem is that the system for becoming a legal immigrant is a mess of red tape and hoops to jump through.  To get your big move rubber-stamped by the powers that be may very well take thousands of dollars and years of waiting.  So, honestly, do you blame someone, who’s current neighborhood challenge is staying alive, when they conclude they can’t wait that long and afford that much?  How in the world do we expect “the homeless, the tempest-tossed” to fork up that kinda funding and just hang tight a “few” years?  Are we going to propose changing the saying on our iconic statue, and if so, isn’t that the exact opposite of being conservative?

Has it occurred to anyone that perhaps we would have fewer illegal immigrants if we made legal immigration reasonably accessible?  Do you stay patient waiting at the DMV?

I’m not saying go all crazy with open borders so people can just run on over on a whim, but isn’t expecting them to win a bureaucratic war of attrition a little bit much?  Is that really the only two options on the table nowadays?

Why aren’t we encouraging folks to be anxious and eager to become Americans?


Make America Peppy Again

The whole motto of the current President, “Make America Great Again”, is the dumbest pile of bologna to come along in a while in that it’s literally the exact opposite of what we needed to hear.  The conservative Republicans of old were all about telling you how freaking amazing our country is.  They would point to the “flood” of “illegals” and say, “See?  We’re so awesome, they can’t even wait to get here legally!”

No one’s saying that.

That’s the problem.


Update 02/10 – I felt it worth adding a disclaimer in case my writing skill failed to imply the message accurately.  If any of the language here strikes you as particularly ‘Murican’ or nationalistic, it’s sarcasm.  I was trying to speak, with a bit of hyperbole, from a point of view I grew up drenched in during the 80’s. 


Comment Policy: Nasty arguments are for Facebook. Debates are great, but keep it polite and civil.  Who decides what’s polite and civil?  Me.  This is my site and I fashion myself a benevolent dictator.  I reserve the right to delete comments and block folks with or without warning, for any reason.

A Non-Crazy View of…”Obamacare”

I follow this pretty strict rule on my Facebook page 90% of the time where I don’t talk politics, because Facebook is basically a never-ending episode of Crossfire nowadays, and because I try to be a positive voice on social media while everyone else is yelling at each other.

That said, I figure I can break my vow of political silence and post my opinions here, outside Facebook, where I can properly police behavior and make sure anyone who wants to comment civilly can do so without fear of being yelled down. So I’m toying with the idea of “A Non-Crazy View of…” series to highlight topics I’m interested in, and provide a chilled-out view as objectively as I can muster. I’m not much into the whole politics thing, and am usually just an observer from afar, which, ironically, I think keeps me more or less balanced in my views (I hope).  I do not fashion myself a conservative or liberal, so hopefully I can display no bias either direction.

Let’s Argue on the Internet!

So, let’s start this blogging experiment with a discussion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more popularly referred to as “Obamacare”. I will refer to it as “ACA”, however, since the whole point of dubbing it “Obamacare” adds an emotional slant to it right out the gate. So let’s call it what it actually is.

To understand what makes this topic such a mess, we need look no further than any given Facebook “discussion” on it.  On the one end, liberals praise it as Obama’s crowning achievement and a step toward European-style single-payer universal healthcare,  a (albeit flawed) solution to our society’s healthcare problems.  On the other end, conservatives have for  years fiercely denounced the program as evolving us toward a socialist authoritarian welfare state where everyone is dependent on the government for health.  Most arguments I’ve seen are some variation on these two ideological views, rinse and repeat.  Is that all this is about though?  “Socialism good” vs. “socialism bad”?  If you listen to TV news, talk radio, or anyone’s Facebook feed, this is all that’s presented, so it certainly is pitched as such.

So what’s the rest of us, who aren’t into yelling each other down and painting absolutely everything in black-and-white good and bad, to do?  I propose this is a far more nuanced topic.

So Who’s for Survival of the Fittest?

Let’s start withe what everybody agrees on: there’s a healthcare problem.  Insurance premiums for lower income households (poverty line and lower-middle class) have long been expensive, too often cripplingly expensive.  The one thing I don’t see either side ever saying is that there’s no problem and everything’s fine.  I’ve literally been the penniless guy who was sick and couldn’t afford care with insurance, so I can vouch from direct experience that there is undeniably a problem.   My saving grace was an uncle who stepped in to help, but many people don’t have such generous people in their lives.

With that understood, I think everybody can also agree that there isn’t exactly an obviously easy solution landing in our laps.  If you’re liberal, you look at Scandinavian countries and might conclude “hey that seems to work, let’s do that” and turn to socialized medicine.  If you’re conservative, you probably conclude there’s a problem with how we’re managing the free market and we can tweak the current system to solve the problem.

But Their Party is Evil and My Party is Awesome

This where things go crazy — If you’re a Republican, you are almost required to absolutely loathe anything the other party proposes, because Democrats are corrupt and evil socialists.  Likewise, if you’re a Democrat, you cannot be on board with anything the other party has to offer because they are bigoted racists and evil.  So while these two forces running our country bash heads, any actual discussion of actual solutions really falls to the wayside.  (This is why I’m insistent on saying “ACA” instead of “Obamacare”, since if you hate/love Obama you must hate/love Obamacare by extension.)

You think they’re debating solutions, but they’re really just yelling at each other, like they do on every topic.  The world we live in is now one where Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, W. Bush is a war criminal, Clinton is literally the antichrist, and Trump is a Russian spy.  This is a fantastic way to make every debate about character assassinations instead of actually focusing on the issues that are going to either help or wreck our lives even if some of those guys are really actual supervillains.  Consider: this solution X President is proposing will destroy the country because X President is evil so everything they propose has to likewise be sinister.  Liberals are socialists or conservatives are fascists and the end of the Republic is upon us!

I don’t know how folks have the stamina to hold to such polarized views 365 days a year.

So here, we will abandon all the above ideology and just look at a problem and proposed solutions.  I’ll offer my opinion, which, as I will always note, is not really worth anything, and I am often quite mistaken about many topics.  I am not an economist nor do I hold a political science major.  I’m a layman, just a dude, if you will, trying to make the best sense of things as I can. In other words, I’m totally unqualified to speak on the topic but I’m driven by caring about it and thus giving it a good college try.

So the Truth is…Nuanced?

Today we have the ACA.  To the Democrats credit, it is working to some degree.  When you see people — individuals — speaking up and saying they can finally afford care, can finally get long-debilitating health issues solved, and have some real livelihood restored, one can safely conclude something is working.  Fair?  This is why liberals insist the system is a victory.

Similarly, we have no shortage of stories that those under the poverty line still cannot afford healthcare because ACA premiums have only been on the rise.  So you have poor people post-ACA who are still poor and still cannot afford healthcare.  This is why conservatives insist the system is a failure.  I will say this means something isn’t working.

So for some people, the ACA works great. For others, it’s not working and they’re still thrown to the wolves.  So I propose the ACA is both a success and a failure – or, better stated – it’s a critically flawed but not entirely broken system.

Why is it broken?  Personally, I think the political climate has fuzzed the details beyond objective assessment.  Obama’s personal vision of the ACA never came to pass, so I don’t know about you, but I can neither confirm nor deny that his original plan would have worked or not.  The ACA that was implemented was only a shadow of Obama’s vision, which I think is safe to conclude, whether that vision was good, bad, whatever.  Why is it a shadow of the original ideal?  Because Republicans only allowed the ACA to come to life by stripping a bit of the original vision out of it, for better or worse.  This modification of the ACA, liberals may propose, is Republican obstructionism in order to break a system then complain it’s broken.  Conservatives propose their modification is what prevented it from being a massive disaster (more so than they claim it is already).  Whatever the case may be, this makes it really tricky for average Joes like myself to really make heads or tails of the whole mess. Perhaps that was intentional, perhaps not.

Ok, so everyone agrees there’s a problem, no one agrees on the solution, a solution was implemented if only in a modified form, and the result of that solution is some success and some failure.  That’s not anywhere near as easy an answer as “it’s good” or “it’s bad”.   That said, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it was neither a runaway success or absolute failure; “version 1” of any system is never the one you place final judgement on.  It’s like judging software solely based upon the beta version.  You have to tweak, adjust, modify a system several times over before you can really make that call.  Nonetheless, that call has been made on ACA beta version 1.0, so here we are.

The powers that be must figure out a solution since “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t” isn’t exactly a desired outcome, at least at the current ratio.  So our options are:

  • Remove the system (revert to previous system).
  • Modify the system.
  • Replace the system.

So let’s consider these three potential solutions.  If you remove the system, you inevitably harm those for whom the system did work.  For those for whom it never worked, you have a net sum of nothing; the previous system didn’t work for them to begin with.  Even if the system should have never been implemented, this is where we are, and these are the real consequences of pure removal.  I think the cost/benefit outcome of this is just bad news all around.  No impoverished citizens benefit from the removal, while some impoverished citizens are harmed by its removal.  It would strike me as strange to try to pitch that as a viable solution.

Next, we could modify the system.  This poses less of a threat to those already benefiting from it.  Perhaps some tweaks would correct the significant flaws of rising premiums leaving others in a harmful state of being exactly where they were before the system was implemented.  If tweaks could adjust the success/failure ratio in favor of success, then I think that would be worth taking a go at.  This could benefit those currently benefiting and those currently not benefiting.

Lastly, we can replace the system.  I figure that’s worth considering too.  If the failure side of the ratio is due to core mechanics of the system, it might not be fixable, in which case you figure out what worked and what didn’t, then invent a new, superior replacement system. If the replacement process is implemented correctly, those benefiting from the current system aren’t harmed since they can be transitioned right over to the new system.  This could likewise benefit those currently benefiting and those currently not benefiting.

So, as I see it from this simple layman’s point of view, the first option is largely a lose-lose scenario, while the other two options may possibly provide a win-win.

But Wait, There’s More!

We haven’t covered all the nuances though.  What is one of the more common retorts to ACA or anything similar?  “My premiums/taxes went up!”  Those in the middle class and especially those in the upper class pay into the system for those in the lower class to be able to benefit from it.  In other words, the money has to come from somewhere.  I personally don’t fully understand this concern because I myself am in the middle class (hovering about upper-middle perhaps), yet my premiums have more or less stayed business as usual; changes have been somewhat negligible.  I’m not experiencing any crippling rise in healthcare cost, and I use a major insurance company and have no shortage of healthcare expenses.  So if the cost/benefit ratio is a little more cost to me for a big benefit to others, then I don’t see any problem.  My experience is purely anecdotal though, so I would be interested in seeing how others in the middle class have been impacted, and if they have been impacted differently, I want to understand how in the world I’m an exception.

One other thing that shouldn’t go ignored: this is a raise in cost for employers.  For big corporations (ironically the most likely to complain about it), that cost can be absorbed, so no biggie; however, for small businesses, every additional cost adds up in a big way.  So I think this factor should not go ignored, especially since most liberals and conservatives tend to favor the “little guy” small business owners over the mega-corporations, if only in word but not deed.

So Democrats, You Have Me (for Now)

So with all the above considered, for now, I side with the Democrats on this one, and I maintain my right to switch sides as the situation evolves.  Current Republicans (a) are rushing a full repeal or at least a severe gutting of the ACA, (b) claim they will offer a replacement, (c) have claimed this for years now, but (d) have offered no replacement whatsoever.  And look, it’s not like they haven’t been given a million opportunities to do so.  This threatens a tragic cost/benefit shift: yes, taxpayers who always have been able to afford insurance benefit, but both those benefiting off the current system and those impoverished not benefiting simply move into a bigger bucket of none of them benefiting, since full repeal simply means a reversal to the previous system.  So, Republicans, I can’t give you leeway on this one; I have no idea what you’re doing and I don’t know if you know what you’re doing.  Go hang out with the Space Race era Republicans to learn how pitching ideas works.

Does this mean I’m a liberal Democrat now?  No.  Once upon a time, Republicans were known for being the nerdy folks with red ink who knew how to implement systems without breaking the bank, at least more so than today.  This was before the political climate turned purely and viciously ideological.  With that in mind, if the Republicans could pitch a replacement system in time for the repeal, then I’d lend them an ear.  If they could present a superior replacement system that would benefit those we’re all concerned about while providing a smooth transition from the old system, then I would totally flip over to backing the Republicans on it in a heartbeat.  In other words, I don’t care which side solutions come from; I care about solutions that work or at least are articulated.

And let’s be fair in addressing the elephant in the room sporting curiously orange hair: there’s an extensive list of things that terrify me about Trump, but I will at least give benefit of the doubt that since not all of his businesses went bankrupt and it’s reasonably safe to assume he himself isn’t bankrupt, that maybe the guy knows at least something about implementing successful systems with a balanced cost/benefit ratio.  A stretch, perhaps, but I am an eternal optimist.  Unfortunately, all he and his party have provided so far are just typical empty political promises (between twitter wars), the kind that often only serve to win votes.  “It’ll be so much better!” means nothing without at least a semi-detailed proposal — a rough draft, even — something a walking corporate success story would be especially aware of.

In conclusion: I agree with the liberal who points out we can no longer pretend that there aren’t impoverished Americans sick and dying only because they can’t afford private insurance.  I agree with conservatives in taking caution with how much we tax who for what.  I also agree with conservatives that we should be cautious how dependent we make ourselves on flawed government.  Dependence grows power.  Similarly, I agree with liberals that individual “socialist” solutions are not necessarily “evil red socialism” and worth consideration at the very least.  I believe there are nuances and effective solutions usually exist on a spectrum between extremes.  I understand everything has a cost, costs cannot be avoided, and yet oftentimes costs are necessary.  Anybody who pitches a solution that can reasonably achieve this balance gets my support.  That, unfortunately, is not the goal of the modern political system by and large, at least as far as I can see.  I am up for giving the Democrats another chance to improve their system, and I am also up for letting conservatives attempt to introduce a superior system…if they’d stopping bickering and actually do it.

Update: Right after writing this, I saw the news about the late-night repeal vote.  So…that happened.

Comment Policy: Nasty arguments are for Facebook. Debates are great, but keep it polite and civil.  Who decides what’s polite and civil?  Me.  This is my site and I fashion myself a benevolent dictator.  I reserve the right to delete comments and block folks with or without warning, for any reason.

The James Forums

So…there are forums now:

As some old school friends may know, I’ve had bad luck with this in years long past. I think I can swing this without breaking it this time.  *knock on wood*

It’s gonna take a bit to build up and mold to my purposes, but in the meantime, please jump in and play all you like. The more random user-generated content I have there, the better I can test it out.

In the Beginning…

“If you do not write today, you are not a writer.”

I posted that yeeeeeaaaars ago in the early days of my old Xanga blog.  Remember Xanga?  Of course you don’t.  That’s how long it’s been since I’ve been on the blogging scene.  And I have not been a writer.  (That was said to me by an author I met at a book signing meet-and-greet sorta shindig at a Barnes & Noble in Little Rock around the time I was fresh out of college.)

I’ve been looking for a purpose to resurrect the ol’ JamesWebsite and it occurred to me, lately, I’ve spent way too many hours writing mini-essays in response to friends’ and acquaintances’ Facebook posts, regarding topics I like to think I know something about, because I like sharing and educating.  I went into overdrive with this during the week after the election, much like everyone else did, and in retrospect, it’s given me much-needed pause.  Hours of writing…that will be buried in various Facebook feeds in a matter of days (if that long), never to be seen again.  It’s like writing passionately upon paper, then promptly tossing the paper into the trash.

So here I’ve kicked this up.  I intend to make a habit of writing things worth reading, or, at the very least, worth writing.  I haven’t blogged in years because it felt narcissistic to me. Why would YOU care what I have to say about any topic?  You don’t see any PhD or other letters of importance by my name. I’m just a dude, and a dude who often rambles incoherently on subjects he’s often wrong about.

But hey, if I can redirect my writing time away from the Facebook trashcan and into the concrete foundation of my own site, perhaps at some point, someone will find something worthwhile here.  If not, well, I’ll have fun making this up as I go.