Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why I'm Voting Democrat This Year

The Republicans are trying to emphasize, over and over, that the focus in this election is on jobs and the economy.  Of course, that’s not entirely true.  Republicans just want it to be true because they know that their social policies are increasingly unpopular.

No election is about just one thing.  In order for that to be true, all elected officials and their appointees would have to promise to only make decisions about that one thing.  “No legislating about the environment for the next four years, and forget any non-economic foreign policy, folks.  This election is solely about jobs and the economy!”  That’s completely silly.  The reason journalists want to know what Republicans think about social issues is because they know that we, the people, are going to be effected by the very real choices that Republicans, if elected, will get to make about American society.

Of course the American people are very concerned about the economy.  It’s something that affects every one of us every single day.  I’ve been reading both party platforms and both parties really do want a lot of the same things when it comes to the economy. They want to encourage entrepreneurship and business growth here at home, they want to create jobs and grow the economy.  Both parties want to streamline government, cutting whatever they deem unnecessary spending and reducing national debt.  The only problem is, each party has a fundamentally different philosophy about how to achieve these goals.  Republicans place their trust and the vast majority of the burden for economic revival on the free market, while Democrats place trust in the government to boost the economy.  And they both blame the others’ policies for the economic mess we’re in right now.  It’s up to the American people to decide which institution they distrust least. 

To my mind, if government really did its job, if politicians were concerned with the good of the governed rather than with their own financial wellbeing or re-election or power, I would be much more excited about the Democrats’ solutions.  As it is, I’m pretty wary (especially that we’ll just get more power-play gridlock instead of progress), but at this point I think I still trust the government just slightly more than I trust the free market.  Unchecked capitalism may sound good to those who have money to begin with, but it tends to turn into a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest game for those on the lower rungs of society.  Humankind, according to all the political theorists whose ideas America is founded on, originally banded together to avoid the dog-eat-dog violence of an individualistic world.  We formed governmental institutions and charged them with the task of protecting us from those who would seek to take our life, liberty, or property.  Republicans want government to guard our property most fiercely, but Democrats think that the loss of food, shelter, and health care is tantamount to a loss of life.  When working within the capitalist system fails to provide the basic necessities of life, maybe it’s the government’s job to step in and help out until we can get back on our feet (whether that be as larger groups of people, by job creation and economy stimulus, or individually, as in food stamps and welfare).  We live in society for a reason, and if as members of society we can’t help support those around us, maybe we shouldn’t be members of such a privileged society.  As a personal example, I used to whine about how much of my paycheck went to taxes, especially social security which I may never see again. But then my dad lost his job and he started receiving unemployment, and government support programs didn’t seem so terrible to me anymore.

But, as I said, the economy is just one piece of the pie.

One of the political issues that I support wholeheartedly is the legalization of gay marriage, or, as I prefer to call it, marriage equality.  It’s just bat-shit crazy to me that about half the nation still believes that some peoples’ civil rights ought to be restricted based on other peoples’ religious beliefs.  I salute the Democratic party for officially making support of marriage equality part of their party platform.  And I am appalled at the way anti-gay Republicans will cloak their phobia in lofty talk of the Constitution (it’s right there in their party platform).  It’s true, the Founding Fathers probably wouldn’t have supported gay marriage. But they also knew that the world would change and so they did not primarily enshrine bigotry in the constitution (there are a few clauses now stricken from the document which were pretty bigoted and racist), they primarily enshrined language of rights, freedoms, and most importantly a mechanism whereby the Constitution could be amended to embrace changes that might arise in our unwieldy, diverse, messy nation. 

Also, I care deeply about women’s issues, as I should, since I’m a woman.  I’m not going to say that in order to be a good woman you have to agree with me on everything.  And I’m not even sure what my official position is, though I think making abortion illegal would create more problems than it would solve.  I certainly don’t think Planned Parenthood should be defunded; they are a top provider of contraception and of health information, most vitally to lower-income and uninsured women who might otherwise not have access to such health care.  These women should not be casualties of political crossfire.  (If you’ve never actually interacted with anyone involved with Planned Parenthood, go ahead and look at their website; you may disagree with them on many issues but it’s important that you not get all your impressions of an institution from what their critics say about them). Anyhow, I want a party in power that might actually invite women to the bargaining table when specifically female issues are at stake.  There’s nothing more ridiculous than an all-male panel on contraception.

Of course, since the majority of people living below the poverty line are women, and the majority of those women are single mothers, the economy comes into play again.  Would these women like to duke it out in an arena where they and their children have no social safety net to fall back on? Would they like an unregulated capitalist economy where a predatory housing market, companies just trying to turn a profit, and exorbitant lenders are free to take advantage of them?  I suspect that these women might like the Democrats’ philosophy of how to fix the economy better than they like the Republicans’.

Finally, as far as women’s issues go, I was extremely pleased to see that the Democrats mentioned multiple times in their party platform that they urge the ratification of CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women).  It’s a document drawn up by the United Nations in 1979.  Most nations that have ratified it have done so with some reservations, but the United States is the only developed nation that has not ratified it at all (see the Wikipedia article; I was first made aware of CEDAW’s existence by this fantastic book about women’s rights around the world).  The Republican party platform nowhere mentions CEDAW.

These are some of the important, deciding issues; there are others such as the environment, immigration, education, labor policy, and foreign policy, all of which I also have more or less vigorous opinions on.  But bottom line, in reading both party’s political platforms, I see two different philosophies (or, if you will, “worldviews”) at work.  I used to be very strongly Republican, even Libertarian, but I’ve changed my mind.  I find my ideas are in line with the Democratic party and so that’s how I plan to vote.  I’m not going to try to pressure you to agree with me, and I know many of you won’t.  Let’s all go ahead and vote our individual beliefs, and prove once again that democracy really does work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Guaranteed-Result Couch-Potato Diet!

Recently, researchers concluded (in this study) that organic food isn’t any more nutritionally valuable than non-organic food.  To which I responded with a resounding “duh…”

It’s true that there are questions about the reliability of the test results.  But the biggest thing that this proves to me is: Americans are stupid about food.  Really, why would the non-use of pesticides or the use of natural fertilizer boost the amount of Vitamin C in an orange, for instance?  I wouldn’t even suspect that the raspberries plucked right from under the nose of all those bees and hornets that buzz around our family raspberry patch are better for me than the ones they stock at Wal-Mart.  (they may taste better but I think that has more to do with the freshness factor)  I never thought organic food was better for me than non-organic (and, let’s be honest, it’s way worse for my wallet).  If I want food that’s better for me, I go for non-processed food, regardless of how it was grown.  I avoid sugar and excess fat and meat.  The reason for organic food, in my mind, has always been for the health of the earth and in support of better farming practices.

But, all things considered, I’m not surprised that the healthiness or non-healthiness of organic food is a research-worthy topic.  After all, America is the nation that thought it could subsist entirely on meat.  We are just incredibly dumb about food.  The diet industry is entirely funded by the millions of people who have no idea what it is they put in their mouths every day.

I won’t lie to you: I like to eat cheap, processed foods sometimes.  My favorite snack for awhile in college was Easy Mac, for crying out loud.  But I eat food like that the same way I read those books comedians write.   No, screw it, bad analogy – laughter is the best medicine, and processed cheese product probably isn’t.  The point is, cheapness and convenience in food is quite pleasant but it’s not something I want to live off of.

Cheap and convenient is just one symptom of what has been called our “national eating disorder.”  It’s what happens when you listen to the marketing narrative that’s pushing processed crap.  “Ready in 2 minutes!” they shout.  “Save money!”  Until you consequently have to spend lots of time and money at the doctors’ office, this is an enticing narrative indeed.

But cheap and convenient is just the tip of the iceberg. (Also, did you know iceberg lettuce is basically water? Yeah, go for Romaine instead).  The big money comes in with the diet schemes.  The people who think up the diets get money, their publishers and advertisers get money, every company that can spin their product to fit the dieting fad gets money.  And as soon as the FDA (or whoever regulates these things) gets in there and slaps a truth-in-advertising law on some over-used word or phrase, the marketers come up with something else to dupe the unsuspecting masses into buying their food products.

Sadly, by the time the average American wakes up to the fact that she is stupid about food, she finds herself so swamped in contradictory information that she doesn’t know who to listen to.  That’s the problem with living in a nation of self-proclaimed experts on everything.  It’s almost impossible to sort through the crap and find the truth.

So as much as I might roll my eyes at this silly organic-food-isn’t-extra-healthy study, maybe some people actually need it…and then the eye-roll is back and I figure if someone really needed this study, there’s probably not much hope for them.

Oh look, an article in my latest fashion magazine about how dieting fads don’t work.  Geez, and last month they had this awesome “cleanse” article, and… I think the way I actually manage to keep my weight pretty stable and my health pretty solid is by just ignoring nearly all the advice.  If some nutritionist somewhere does happen to agree with me, I just nod and move on.  Who cares.  Apathy is a legitimate dietary choice…right? At least I’m consistent.