Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stuck in the Middle with You

I'm a member of the species politica independens, from the Latin meaning "everyone thinks I'm wrong."  Most of my liberal friends consider me uncomfortably conservative, while most of my conservative friends find me unbearably liberal.  And of course, they're all right.

Now, it's true I lean a bit to the left of center on many issues.  Still, I'm as frequently appalled by Democratic shenanigans as I am by the nonsense the Republicans get up to.  That's why I call myself an independent.  I can't depend on any of them to do the right thing.  Likewise, I know there are traditional-values Democrats, just as there are socially progressive Republicans.  I'm speaking in broad brush strokes here.  If I wanted to be nuanced, I'd be an independent.  See what I did there?

Anyway, because it's a cold, blustery day and I have nothing but my ego to keep me warm, I thought I'd share a few of my positions on the issues of the day.  They're not right or wrong, they're just mine.  I own them, because I believe in them, not because a pamphlet emblazoned with an elephant or a donkey (or a rainbow or a crucifix or a bald eagle) told me to.  I may even change my mind on some of them later.  That's right, I may flip-flop!  Based on absolutely nothing but further education and experience!  That bitch is crazy!

Just saying it so you don't have to.  Let's go.

Gun ownership should be strictly controlled.  The way I see it, gun owners are like pet owners (and not just because some of them are big piles of crazy like Michael Vick).  You can have any pet you like, except for a few types that are deemed too dangerous to own because they have a high likelihood of causing damage, mayhem, and/or death.  And any pet that goes outside should be registered with the local authorities, not only so it can be traced if it causes problems, but so the license fee can help mitigate the cost of any harm it causes to others.  If you prove not to be a responsible pet owner, you can be banned from keeping them. Millions of people follow these simple rules, and violators are punished via applicable laws.  And don't throw the Second Amendment in my face unless you have some updated version that doesn't include the words "well-regulated."

Let me pay for my own health care.  I don't want government-paid, or even government-subsidized, insurance.  I just want medical care to not be so astronomically overpriced that it's cheaper to die than to get well.  The housing bubble, the tech bubble, the commodities bubble - these are nothing compared to the health-care bubble that has been allowed to grow unchecked for years.  And since the only free-market remedy is for people to stop getting sick (or stop getting better), the government will have to step in to effect a correction.  But the answer isn't to promise insurance companies and hospital corporations that no matter what ridiculous rates they charge, the federal health bureaucracy will cover it.  Instead we need to pass strategic laws aimed at ending price-gouging. 

First, increase medical research funding in exchange for imposing price controls on pharmaceutical companies (which will also decrease all those stupid ads they run to boost their profit margins).  Second, allow health insurance to be sold across state lines to create a larger, lower-risk pool of participants and encourage competitive pricing.  Third, increase availability and tax benefits of Health Savings Accounts to give consumers more power over managing and negotiating their health care costs.  Fourth, provide tax incentives to medical practices that provide low-cost, cash-based preventive care to reduce the costs of insurance overhead and over-reliance on emergency services.  Simple and unobtrusive initiatives, all of them.  The only things standing in their way are, let's see, lobbies, lobbies, lobbies, and lobbies.  So we're screwed.  But I can dream.

Legalize marijuana, already.  Standardize production, regulate distribution and use, and tax it.  Make it legally equivalent to booze.  I've used both, and believe me, pot is less expensive, less addictive, and less destructive.  You can't give me that "only Negroes and Commies smoke dope" line either, unless you're over 90.  Even then, dude, you won't believe what some good weed will do for your arthritis pain.  Seriously, let's stop wasting law enforcement resources and ruining people's lives over this stuff.  Let's stop denying its medical benefits to cancer patients and other sufferers.  Let's start raising some badly-needed tax revenue.  Like, wow, man.

Stop regulating every damn little thing.  I shouldn't complain, since for years I made my living in an industry that literally wouldn't exist if not for EPA regulations.  On the other hand, when entire industries spring up whose sole purpose is regulatory compliance, you've got to think there may be a little overkill.  I'm glad our food is safer, our water is cleaner, our medicines don't kill us very often.  The longer people live, the quicker I can bury my hopes of ever drawing Social Security, I say.  Hurray! 

But still, all that regulation isn't free.  Paying taxes to build roads and fund scientific advances is cool; paying taxes to ensure that no hot dog shall contain more than two cockroach legs per ounce possibly has less tangible benefit.  Also, I know what it costs businesses to achieve compliance, and those costs invariably result in higher consumer costs and/or lower levels of innovation and investment.  Quite possibly the problem is that the government shouldn't be in charge of enforcing its own regulations.  It's been known to show a certain lack of perspective when it comes to matching resources to results (see marijuana, above). 

Stop talking about race.  Let's stop pretending that something as arbitrary as skin color or ethnic origin has anything to do with what a person can or should achieve.  There will always be bigots who believe that and treat people accordingly.  But why should the government pander to them by counting and measuring and allocating everything in relation to pigmentation?  I don't believe that being black causes or predicts criminal behavior or that being Hispanic causes or predicts high dropout rates.  I also don't believe that white people are hard-working or Asians are intellectually superior.  I do believe that economic stability, educational opportunities, access to recreation and social services, and positive role models have a profound influence on all types of achievement, and none of those things is dependent on what your skin looks like next to a paper bag. 

How repugnant is it that if a teenage white girl gets pregnant or lands in jail, we call her "white trash," i.e., a defective white person?  Why do we talk about "black poverty" and "Hispanic dropout rates," as if their problems would be solved if only they changed their color or their surname?  Ignorance and poor choices have no color barrier, which is why bigots can also come in any color.  Yes, society's ills tend to be more prevalent among racial and ethnic minorities.  That won't change unless everyone starts looking at "their" problems as "our" problems.  And if "them" and "us" continue to be defined by so-called racial distinctions, then it won't change at all.

As they say on the Internet, end rant.  I'm going to go watch some TV.  Basic cable is so non-partisan:  it treats everyone like an idiot.

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