Hate is Dangerous; Love is Deadly

Before getting into the meat of this posting, there are a few things that I would like to explain.  My long absence is the first item I will address.  The answer is twofold, I was sick and my 9 to 5 job is in a state of flux so I didn’t have as much time to dedicate to the research necessary for thought-provoking articles.  I apologize for the unforseen break.  The second item to dispense with is the content.  Up until this point my posts have generally been of a news variety.  Statements and conclusion backed up by evidence found in the media and studies.  This posting differs because it is not entirely empirically based.  Many of the conclusions do come from personal experience, but most people do not find evidence enough in experience alone.  On this topic I had no choice, there are no studies that I could find or news articles backed up by fact-checkers that quite fit with this topic.  The examples are sometimes broad and I do not feel that they always need citation.   Hopefully, there is a modicum of truth buried in the ramblings that follow.  Enjoy.

Long considered the most hate-driven of human acts murder has become an hourly event in our world.  According to the editors of the Atlantic Review in an article comparing US murder rates to German, about 17,000 murders occur in the United States every year.  That is 46 murders every day.  Almost two murders every hour inside the United States alone.  It takes me roughly three hours to write and proofread one of these posts, that is six murders before I can finish writing this.  Take note that this number does not include justified murder like suspects killed by the police or soldiers killed in combat.  That is a significant amount of death for one country to doll out every hour.  If numbers from around the world could be included then the number would be even more staggering.

Murder is not the true topic of this post.  What lies behind murder is the true topic.  It is easy to assume that hate is the cause of most murders.  Soldiers hate their enemies.  Gang members hate their rivals.  Addicts hate being sober. Betrayed spouses hate their unfaithful lovers.  The followers of many gods hate the disbeliever.  Apparently it is difficult to take another life without hate.  Hate is not the only motivator for murder.

Another culprit hides behind an excellent public perception, an unnoticed hand leading us into situations hate alone couldn’t force us into.  A feeling that steps through the atrocities and devastation and emerges pristine on the other side.  The feeling that pushes us all, that we all experience in one way or another is love. 

Without a love for their homeland would patriots be willing to kill for their country?  A soldier that doesn’t love themselves, their family, their way of life, their country, or some combination isnt’ worth much.  We show soldiers our love by giving them medals and parades.  The armed forces show their love by giving soldiers rank and their fellow soldiers give them respect for their prowess in combat.  All of these reasons, among other more personal ones, drive soldiers. 

Rarely do we think of soldiers killing the enemy as murder, but it is.  The difference is that it is justified murder.  I worry that the negative connotation associated with murder is so great that the last sentence can only be taken as condemnatory.  It is not, it is praise.  The soldier takes the burden of having to kill other human beings from the rest of the citizenry.  I like to believe that most of them don’t enjoy taking life.  If any number of documentaries and news programs are correct then the next group doesn’t share the burden of taking life.  They revel in it.

Gang member death is so common a story in our country that usually the story doesn’t make the front page.  But are they entirely the hate-filled people who news programs would have us believe?  Without a love for their neighborhood (despite any negative effects they may have on it) would a gang member be so willing to kill for a tiny piece of land?  Is there not a type of love in killing to protect an adoptive family?  Is it possible that killing a rival gang member is the same as killing an enemy in war?   They certainly seem to think so. 

The soldier fights for family and country and the gang member fights for other gang members and territory.  The gang member gets respect and rank for killing more enemies than other members.  The real trouble comes from the perception that anyone outside of the gang is the enemy.  Would they be so likely to kill if they only hated other people and didn’t belong to their deviant family and strive for its love?  It seems that their drive stems from a wish for acceptance.  In a way most of us can’t understand, they want to be loved by the group. 

A good counter-question to this argument would be what about gangs that kill their own members?  The answer to that question comes in the next example, the loving spouse turned murderer.   In this example, the murder is definitely hate-based, but the hate would not generate in deadly portions if not for a proportionate amount of love existing in the first place.

When friends part under bad circumstances they rarely go to the length of murder, even best friends.  There are entire shows dedicated to spouses killing each other.  There are poems, plays, and books about murdered lovers.  Like the gang member it has become a staple story in our culture.  There is likely no way to prove the correlation for amount of love to likelihood of murder, but I would make a bet that the deeper the love the higher possibility for death.  When love reaches excessive levels it becomes worse than hate, it drives humans to cross lines they may never have imagined crossing in their lives.  Like betrayed lovers gang members target their own with more vehemence than their enemies ever could.

The next example falls into the same group of excessive love exponentially generating  excessive hate.  The next group is religion, more specifically loving one’s religion.  History shows us that this is by far the most dangerous group.  The number of people murdered for religion is greater than all the other groups put together..  Mainly because many wars also had religious backing behind them.  In the present day, we have the Islamic civil war and the conflict in Northern Ireland.  Before these we had the Holocaust.  Before that we had the Inquisition (a war on disbelief).  Before that the Crusades where both sides committed atrocities.  Other than these major conflicts there were the Salem witch hunts, Aztec sacrifice, the Chinese persecution of the Buddhist, and every hate group ever formed by radicalized religion. 

But it isn’t hate that drives these basest of human acts, it is a love of God that drives them.  The people who committed these atrocities had a myriad of reasons for doing what they did, but one of those reasons was a love of their religion and its tenets.  Every major religion has restrictions on murder, most outright ban it.  Yet most religions have blood on their hands.  The Jewish people conquered cities.  The Christians conquered cities.  The Muslims conquered cities.  That is an impossible feat when their gods don’t allow murder, yet they all managed to do just that.  These religions have and still do contain sects that not only believe in murder but advocate it.  A fact which defies logic.

At this point, extracting love from human life seems to be my argument, like so many pious albeit naïve thinkers that have pushed for eliminating hate, with no success I might add.  Even the kindest of humans are still capable of hate.  Most of us are taught to fear our hate, to understand that it is a dangerous emotion.  Yet none of us are told to fear our love, at least not to fear how it can harm others.  Hate without love dissipates quickly.  Love without hate doesn’t.  Love is the support structure hate needs to sustain itself.  In order to grow to dangerous proportions, hate needs love.  Love is hate’s food source; take out the love and hate withers and starves.

Is there a solution to this conundrum?  I think not on the macro level, but perhaps on the personal level it is possible.  In the end, the message is moderation.  We can’t possibly rid ourselves of love anymore than we can of hate.  The solution lies in finding the balance between the two.  Not loving or hating too deeply.  There is benefit in stepping back and examining the things one loves.  There are surprises waiting for discovery, ends and lines to cross.   Should a person kill for words on a page?  Should a person kill for betrayal?  Should a person kill for a street corner?  The answer might be yes and it might be no, but we should at least be asking the question.  I leave with a warning: beware what your love compels you to hate.  Combining the two is deadly.

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Trimming the Fat: The One Budget We Never Cut

This past week MSNBC published the article “Iraq War Construction: $6 billion to $8 billion Wasted, US Official Says” by Aaron Mehta and Zach Toombs.  This article, unfortunately, didn’t seem to get much attention.  Despite the slightly misleading title of the article, the truly unsettling aspect to this article is that no exact figures have been reached.  That in itself shows a complete lack of oversight into one the greatest expenditures of tax-payer money ever in this country.  The people elected and appointed to watch out for this exact thing were so lax in their job that they can’t even tell us how much was lost.

Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released his findings and they point to a general theme of approving spending without a check for accuracy or efficiency.  In many other cases, approved plans were constantly modified to adjust for increased costs without needing new approval.  Many agencies seem to have spent funds simply to avoid returning them to the Treasury.  All of these factors combined to create a bloated and inaccurate budget.

This is unacceptable behavior for a government that plans to make deep budget cuts in the next few years.  The question as always remains, why are we cutting social programs when rampant misappropriation is going on?  Many people have come to expect this kind of ineptitude from the government so this might not come as shocking news.  The next part of the story might be more so.

SIGIR also found that there is evidence of wide-spread corruption in the form of bid-rigging and bribery.  Officials at both the State Department and the Pentagon were in indicted on evidence brought forth from the report.  The SIGIR report led to 87 indictments.  Considering that the investigators can’t nail down an exact figure to the losses the country has suffered from this waste, it is safe to assume that they didn’t catch every offender profiteering from this war.  The number of indictments handed down imply a system of corruption that has become the norm.  In another blow, it wasn’t just United States’ personnel taking a piece of the pie.

A Kuwaiti logistics company is accused of willfully driving up prices on the supplies they supply to our troops.  The company even continued to fulfill its contract after the accusations surfaced.  The company, Agility, was given a $4.66 billion contract through the United States’ government to get supplies to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The total cost of the contract came to $8.6 billion.  Agility stands accused of using its suppliers to drive up the costs of the contract by encouraging them to use more expensive materials among other minor adjustments that became massive overcharging.  If the accusations are true then this figure is not included in the SIGIR report and raises that figure to almost $10 billion dollars at the low estimate.  Unfortunately, that number is too low an estimate.

According to the BBC UK website, in an article titled “US ‘wasted $30bn on Afghanistan and Iraq’ over decade,” the United States has actually gone on a larger spending spree than the SIGIR report tells us.  In Afghanistan, the United States spent $11.4 billion on facilities that the Afghanistan government claims it can’t sustain once we withdraw.  Apparently, another $300 million went to a power plant that the Afghan government can’t afford to turn on.

Because these expenditures appeared legitimate they are not included in the SIGIR report.  If it wasn’t bad enough that we built facilities that are unusable, the SIGIR report gives the impression that the contracts were most likely manipulated.  There is another piece of information that outstrips both of those in its depth of corruption and its completely unacceptable nature.

On June 22, 2010 Rep. John F. Tierney released a report on the Host Nation Trucking contract in Afghanistan.  The title of that report is “Warlord Inc.” and it lays out a scheme that allowed United States’ funds into the hands of local warlords and criminal leaders.  Like the Agility contract, this was a logistics contract that allowed for the use of mercenaries to protect supply convoys.  The total contract came to $2.16 billion and it came with a catch.

As it turns out, the only mercenaries available were warlords and criminals who had access to weapons, so that is who the United States hired.  When there weren’t warlords available we turned to local strong men and thugs.  The contract, like the Agility contract, charged the United States for unforseen risks.  Many of the reports of violence and casualties remain unverified.   According to the report, the United States made a habit of not verifying these reports before paying the increased cost. The United States’ was charged an increased price for the increased risk to the convoys that we never bothered to verify.

This example deals a double blow, the first is the same as all the other examples.  The United States’ squandered tax-payer money in a time when many people could use that money.  The second is the money was given to the people we supposedly invaded the country to protect it from.  The fact that the United States was mostly likely overcharged for the services it received seems obvious.  Did we really expect to receive top-notch service from known criminals?  Was there really no better option than the one we took?

I don’t want this argument to seem partisan.  I hope it is clear that the myriad of debacles spanned two different administrations, one from each major political party.  The Republican administration might have started down the path, but the Democratic one kept right on strolling.  All of these examples combine to show that the one budget no politician will even talk about cutting hemorrhages funds, at least for the past decade it has.  Combine this with massive banks that formed over the past decade, banks that created the mortgage bubble, municipal bond rigging, and LIBOR rigging, and we have a perfect equation for a recession and a government that is talking about austerity.

This is an issue that goes past partisanship.  The acts of both administrations are negligent at best and willfully harmful at worst.  Again, I would like to argue that before social programs receive cuts for the sake of reducing the deficit the government needs to undergo severe austerity movements on itself.  According to the evidence compiled in these short writings, the country could save hundreds of millions of dollars if we simply paid more attention to what is going on.  Between the GSA scandal, muni-bond scandal, LIBOR scandal, “Warlord Inc.” scandal, the SIGIR report, and the Agility scandal the United States’ has lost untold billions (some even estimate trillions) from corruption and lack of oversight.  I haven’t even written about record-breaking bonuses, failed weapons development projects, or tariffs, subsidies, and taxes.

This country does need change.  A type of change that neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama will bring.  I don’t like to admit it, but I don’t know of the candidate that will.  Tying into my earlier blog about distraction in politics, perhaps if we hold campaigns to a higher standard will we get better candidates.  These are some of the problems that keep us from being great and they aren’t even a part of the discussion.  It is up to us to make these questions important.

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To Protect and Serve Unless You Disobey (Updated)

July 20, 2012 early in the morning a masked man entered a movie theater and proceeded to kill 12 people and injure dozens more.  He exits the theater and within seven minutes has surrendered to police.  The police take the suspect into custody without incident.  The police have said that he was armed with at least four weapons.  Almost everyone knows this story now.  A link to one of many articles for that story is here, following is a story fewer people have heard.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/21/justice/colorado-theater-shooting/index.html

July 20, 2012 early in the morning a disturbance call turns into an intoxicated man leading police on a chase that spans multiple counties and exceeds 90 mph at times.  Allegedly, the suspect veered at police cruisers until a police spike disabled his vehicle.  This is where the article becomes hazy.  The police statement was that they treated it like a felony stop and then it skips to the suspect being dead and a statement that the officer, State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous, didn’t know how many officers fired or what agencies were involved.  The link to that article here.

http://wvgazette.com/News/201207200045

I need to say something upfront.  I do not under any circumstance think that every police officer is evil.  I just don’t believe that police officers are perfect.  Some are good, some are great and some aren’t.  Like the rest of us, they can make mistakes.  The difference I keep seeing is they aren’t held to the same standards the rest of us are when we make mistakes.  My concern with this situation comes from a few aspects of the police response.

My largest concern comes from this statement made by Baylous, “As a result of his conscious decision not to obey any commands, he was shot and pronounced dead later at the hospital.”  This statement scares me.  There are certain things that I need to see when it comes to police shooting a citizen.  I need to see an armed suspect, sometimes I will even take that there was reason to think they were armed.  I need to see that the officers feared for their lives.  What disturbs me about these two stories is that the first one more than made me believe that the police should fear for their lives while the second one did everything except reassure me.

In the first story, we have a man who is certainly armed and dangerous.  The 911 calls that came in already told the police that they were dealing with a very dangerous situation.  The situation ended without the police killing the suspect.  Most articles claim the suspect gave up without incident.  What is important is that they had every right to believe that the person they were coming to deal with had no intentions of following any commands and was definitely armed.

In the second story, we have a man who the police will not confirm had a weapon.  The article does say that the suspect swerved at police cruisers but it doesn’t say that he rammed or made contact with the officers.  The original call was for a disturbance at a local casino and it ended with a man’s death.  The story is missing very important details and the response from the police is disturbing.  I have far more questions about the second story than I do the first.  Although, I am sure that I will get far more answers for the first.

Again, I would like to say that police officers are human and that all humans are capable of mistakes.  When mistakes involve people’s lives then we deserve a better account of how that life was taken.  Baylous’ statement implies that the man died for noncompliance, an act that I think every person will agree needs looking into.  West Virginia doesn’t have the death penalty, especially for disobeying a police officer.  I understand that he committed acts that endangered others and violated the law.  Does that justify his death?  If the suspect had a weapon and threatened the police that is justifiable, but if he died for noncompliance that is unacceptable.    Mostly, I just want the entire story and the article I read isn’t close to cutting it.

There is one more thing that I don’t like about the article, but it is unverifiable so I don’t know how much credit that statement has.  In the comments section of the Gazette article, one commenter claims to be a friend of the suspect and claims that the police have twisted the statement they made to make it look like the suspect set out to be killed by the police.  Again, I can’t verify that statement.  If there is any truth to it then a better statement needs released after the investigation closes.  According to the article, the police couldn’t release more information because the investigation was ongoing.

I would like to believe that police officers have the safety and interests of the people they serve as a top priority.  Statements like this, “As a result of his conscious decision not to obey any commands, he was shot” make me doubt that.  I will even say that maybe Sgt. Baylous misspoke, but if he didn’t then that is a very scary statement.  When the Occupy Movement and Tea Partiers are protesting and run the distinct chance of not obeying commands the statement Baylous made becomes scary.  A police force that believes noncompliance is grounds for death needs examination.

The facts aren’t all in on this case and I will be posting an update for it when I find out anything new.

[Update]

http://www.wsaz.com/mobi/news?storyid=163150196&showPrev=y&page=-57

This is a link to a local news channel that has released a bit of new information.  The police now say that several cruisers were damaged during the chase, but they do not say that the cruisers were damaged by the suspect.  The police are still using the phrase “tried to ram police cruisers.”  Reinforcing the original statement, the police claim the suspect wanted to die by police.  Unfortunately, the police still have not released whether or not the suspect had a weapon, but they did go door to door in the neighborhood where the shooting took place asking what everyone had seen.  That strikes me as extremely odd and I would like to know what questions the police asked of the residents of that neighborhood.

No new information on the person who claims to have been misquoted by the police.  The new police statement is, “The suspect exited the vehicle and refusing to obey commands then shots were fired and the suspect died as a result of the wounds he received” which doesn’t lessen the scary aspect of the original statement.  Again, I will update when the police release more information.

[Update July 24, 2012]

http://wvgazette.com/News/201207230137

The Charleston Gazette reports that Craig M. Keith pretended to have a weapon and was shot.  Sgt. Baylous says, “All nonlethal means to take him down were ineffective,” but that leaves more questions.  I find it difficult to believe that tazers and mace didn’t work against the suspect.

The friend that commented on the Charleston Gazette’s website has been identified as Bill Wyandt and he still claims that his statements have been twisted to make it seem that this was suicide by police.  Even Baylous now says that the situation was most likely a suicide by police.  Jackson County prosecutors have taken over the case to decide if that shooting is justified.

I still find that there is something missing to this story.  The police statement is still disconcerting.  More updates to come.

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Bain Capital, Tax Returns and the Kitchen Sink

This campaign season we are likely to endure new heights in campaign financing.  These record-breaking figures might be responsible for many debatable effects, but there is one thing they will most definitely do and that is drive up the number of ads that will be forced on us.  Of course the campaign is already fully underway, with Mitt Romney defending his tax returns and his tenure at Bain Capital and President Obama attempting to counter a bad sound bite where he may or may not have told business owners that they don’t build their own businesses.  I have only one thing to say about all these accusations and sound bites, I don’t care.

Unless Mitt Romney did something illegal on his tax returns or committed a criminal act while CEO of Bain Capital, I don’t care about either.  I want to know what he plans to do about the current financial slump or better yet what he plans to do about the massive banking corruption that is unfolding as we speak in investigations across the world.  Does Mitt Romney hide money in off-shore tax shelters?  Maybe, maybe not.  What I want to know is what he plans to do about tax money that was misspent by the GSA.  But this isn’t just about Mitt Romney.

In the past few days, Romney’s campaign has attacked a single sentence in a speech made by President Obama.  I have read the text of the speech and I can see where there is ample room for a trained attack campaigner to jump.  Basing a campaign attack on a single line is about as ridiculous as basing it on a person’s tax returns.  Especially when you consider this is a campaign to run our country and we all deserve better information.  Some already have an explanation for this ordeal.

In a July 2011 article, Fareed Zakaria spoke about narrowcasting in American politics.  Narrowcasting gears news and policy towards the extremes of either side because of factors like “safe districts” where the only room for change is farther to the left or right of the same-party incumbant.  Zakaria claims that this same mentality has slipped into our news system and helps support polarization of the country.  I feel that campaigns, like the ones we are now witness, also play a large part in narrowcasting.

I think there are better questions for the candidates to answer.  My first question, what does either candidate plan to do about the GSA?  Both CNN and Foxnews have reported the GSA has grossly misused funds.  In one instance, the agency spent around $800,000 on a convention in Las Vegas.  The GSA has also made employees attend cooking classes as team building exercises.  The GSA has a budget around $26.3 billion according to an article by Scott Zamost and Drew Griffen of CNN.  Foxnews on the other hand reported the House had slashed the GSA budget by cutting it by $100 million, a seemingly large figure until it one compares it with the total budget.  The cut is about .3% of their total budget.

Another question, what does either candidate plan to do about the “ghost cities” in China.  As early as 2010 the Daily Mail UK reporters showed satellite imagery of enormous completed construction projects from colleges to apartment buildings that seem completely vacant.  This evidence implies that China’s impressive growth numbers may rely on these giant projects that aren’t actually being used.  This also implies that if something bad were to happen to the Chinese economy, much like what happened in Dubai during our recession, then they could have a market crash.  Is there a way to insulate the United States from what might become another massive economic bubble?  Is there a way to insulate the world economy from such a crash?  I don’t know, but I think a candidate for president should.

There are more questions and they will most likely be the subject of blogs to come.  But this is an article about campaigns where all we do is talk about anything except what needs done.  They haven’t thrown the kitchen sink at us, but if Mitt Romney claimed it on his tax returns or if President Obama spent tax-payer dollars on it they will.  I want to hear campaigns that talk about what candidates plan to do during their terms.  Then I want an electorate that will hold them to what they say.  I am not completely idealistic, so I don’t think that a massive change will happen and all of a sudden droves of people will clamor for “boring” campaigns or news.  I can hope that these little writings will help in some tiny way.

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Democrats to the Left of Me, Republicans to the Right, and I’m Stuck in the Middle With You

I spend a lot of my time reading the news.  I must admit I have a guilty somewhat masochistic habit.  I almost always read the comments section, at least until the commenters show me why I shouldn’t.  There is always at least one argument raging in the comments section and this particular argument always goes the same way depending on which bias the news site associates with.  For the sake of this example, I will make the news site a conservative one, but make no mistake this argument is on just as many liberal sites. I will also try my hardest to use real words, spelled correctly, and with a basic use of grammar.  Something you don’t always find in the comments sections of even the best news sites.

Commenter 1:   This article is so true, down with [insert negative semi-clever nickname of politician].

Commenter 2:  You’re an idiot.  Just another right-wing brainwashed drone serving corporations.  You should really read something sometime.  Go [insert positive semi-clever nickname of politician].

Commenter 1:  You’re the brainwashed one.  Liberals always spouting lies.  [Insert personal attack].

This goes on for the rest of the argument.  One calling the other various emphatic insults and then getting the same in return.  The problem being that neither person has added anything of value to the discussion posed by the article.  To avoid confusion, NEITHER person has added anything to the conversation.  Rarely, someone will throw out sources, but I have never personally seen anyone comment back, “I read your source and it raises interesting questions about my beliefs and I need to reevaluate my stance on the topic.”  I bring up this argument for another reason than just bashing the people who constantly engage in them.

I know there are other people out there, people who think critically about what they read and hear.  Then they decide based on the best possible information available.  They just don’t comment that often.  That is the question I am raising now, why don’t they comment often?  If I can take the liberty of believing myself one of those people, then maybe my reasons are yours.

My first reason for avoiding comments.  I don’t want caught up in arguments like the one I described and that is what almost always happens.  Republicans and Democrats both have insulted me.  Libertarians and environmentalists both yell at me.  The poor and well-to-do have both cursed my name.  I have even been called snobbish for misunderstanding people’s general lack of grammar and spelling.  The only reason I can find is because I base my comments on the facts that I have in front of me and not on what a party or ideologue’s opinion is. (Also, because I am a little rough on internet speak).

The second reason for avoiding comments is the loneliness.  Once one side or the other has set in on a person there is no coming back.  The argument can never go back to being about the real information in the argument.  Just scanning the comments can make me cringe away from wanting to voice an opinion.  Reading the comments section of a major news site would lead a person to believe that there are only two sides to any argument and they both think the other side brainwashed by propaganda and they want them and their offspring dead.  It is a lonely world for the center in the comments section.

The third and last reason is the seeming triviality of leaving comments.  I say seeming for a reason.  There are computer programs that scan comment sections and even people who read comments to compile what they find into viewer demographics.  The same way that commercials get marketed to specific demographics the biggest response gets the most coverage.  No matter the response.  A good example of this is the Bain Capital fiasco that has beset American politics lately.  I will be writing more on Bain in my next blog post so for now I will simply use it as an example of something that generated response and in response to that become something huge, distracting us from what could be considered more important discussions.

This is good news, in a way.  It means that if more people start commenting in a civil and engaging way then perhaps those voices can start shaping the national dialogue in a better way.  If there is one thing that I have seen in my years as a United States citizen it is my country’s fall into extreme polarization.  Polarization that becomes more extreme by the day.  So extreme that compromise has become the greatest dirty word.  Oddly enough, tiny comments can help make a tiny shift in national dialogue.  I think we desperately need this shift.

So, this is a calling of sorts, to voice your opinion, no matter how small.  I only beg that you voice it in a civil and well-spoken way.  Stay open to dissenting opinions and answer blind anger with as much composure as possible.  I will try my best to do the same and hopefully this will help give a voice to those of us left in the center.  As I mentioned, the next blog will be about the distraction that is Bain Capital and how it benefits both parties and hurts the electorate.  A topic that I feel has caused more than its fair share of these arguments.

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Breaking the Banks

There are talks in our country of austerity.  There has been a call for fiscal responsibility for our government and that call seems legitimate in the face of rising debt. Tthere is a missing piece in the discussion of austerity, especially when the programs being cut mostly affect lower and middle-class citizens.  The missing piece of the discussion is the rampant corruption and criminality spread throughout Wall Street.  Before we talk about raising interest rates on student loans or cutting Medicare and Medicaid we need to talk about the billions of dollars lost on Wall Street through bid-rigging and the mortgage bubble.

In 2011, the bid-rigging scandal, one that is only now being brought to light, helped bankrupt Jefferson County, Alabama.  It was later found that in this particular case bribing occurred between officials responsible for issuing the bonds and the brokers and banks involved in the bidding process.  The result saddle the county with over 3 billion dollars worth of sewer debt.  This was only one tiny part of the entire system that developed to skim money from the United States financial system.

Matt Taibbi, in his June 21, 2012 article, “The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia,” he goes into extensive detail of the breadth of corruption in our banking institutions.  Among the banks named in the ensuing slew of criminal activities were GE, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and among others.  Some of those names should sound familiar because they are banks that accepted TARP money when the subprime mortgage bubble burst in 2008.   Other banks on the list purchased other banks during the disruption that followed the burst and then became larger.  Some of these banks are in the news again this past week.

J.P. Morgan Chase and UBS have both been called into question in the LIBOR rigging scandal.  If this new scandal serves to prove anything it is that the problem with the banking system is not entirely a United States’ problem.  As many publications have pointed out, the proble, first discovered at Barclays, has brought investigations from around the world.  The discovery of these cases of corruption and law-breaking should lead to industry-wide reform and punitive action, but it hasn’t.  Many of those who were in charge of those banks during the known years of corruption now hold offices meant to investigate those crimes.

The most prominent example would be Henry Paulson.  Paulson gave up a CEO position at Goldman Sachs to become Secretary of the Treasury in 2006, two years before the bubble he helped lobby for collapsed.  In 2004, Paulson along with other major investment bankers lobbied Congress to cut restrictions on leverage limits.  They got what they came for and by 2008, the same year Time magazine named Paulson a runner-up for Person of the Year, the massive bubbled popped.  The question we need to ask is how did one of the people responsible for building critical leverage levels not see their collapse coming?  Or if he did see it coming why was there only light reformation after the collapse?

The example of Jefferson County coupled with the millions of people who have felt the hit from the mortgage collapse and economic recession should be enough to mobilize the people of this country into an uproar.  Other than the much lampooned Occupy Movement, there hasn’t been much headway among those most affected by the tightening economy.  A tightening of our belts forced on us by the decisions made by these banks to trade long-term gains for much riskier short-term ones.  They traded normal people’s lives for profit margins.  For Republicans demanding fiscal restraint, it begins with the banks.  In all these cases, we were left holding the check for billions of dollars that banks took from the system.   For Democrats pushing for change and reform, there is no better place to start than the banks.  For those in the center, well it is a massive case of corruption and theft and that speaks for itself.

The Taibbi article detailed the case of United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm.  This case revealed that banks skimmed so much money from the system that no expert can figure the total sum.   Why are we targeting social programs when we should target an obviously broke banking system?  Would it save us more to reform Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security (because no one will talk about trimming the defense budget) or to punish and receive restitution from the people who have stolen from us for the past decade.  Better yet, we can attempt to make them all work better.

That would be the ideal goal.  That doesn’t seem possible in the current state of country, but I for one refuse to accept austerity from a government that can’t or refuses to hold these banks fully accountable for their actions.  Before we tighten our belts or the belts of our children we need to break these banks of their damaging and fraudulent behavior.

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Changing Your Mind

We have all been in the situation where irrevocably undeniably we were wrong.  The sudden feeling of doubt and shame in realizing our ignorance and sometimes our stubbornness in seeing the truth.  How did we get to that point?  The point where no amount of proof would work until the mounting evidence was too large to dismiss any longer.  For some reason or another we needed or wanted to believe the opposite of  the evidence.  We backed ourselves into a corner and fought to never be dragged out of it.  So why back into the corner at all?  We shouldn’t force others to change our minds, we should just keep an open mind in the first place.

We don’t go into a courtroom and listen to opening remarks and then decide the trial.  No, we let both the defense and prosecution give all the evidence they feel is pertinent to the trial and then the jury decides based on that evidence.  Every one of our minds is a courtroom, not a prison.  A prison holds our thoughts prisoner, unchanging in routine or habit.  A courtroom makes us good citizens.  Critical thinking and informed people are the backbone of every democratic nation.  Imprisoned people are the backbone of every tyranny.

It doesn’t matter what your political or social beliefs are, they shouldn’t be in stone.  Stone breaks.  Your beliefs should be in clay; clay can mold and adapt to new situations.  Clay survives where stone can’t.  The only way to help our country, no matter which party you feel a part of, is to work together.  If we can’t find compromise or even room for real discussion then we are certainly going to break, shattered like the stone etched beliefs we hold.  Everything in our country isn’t great.  Admitting that is the first step towards making things better.

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