Brace Yourselves…

Last Friday, after the early news reports finally ironed out the major details of the shooting in Colorado (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, send me your address and clear a room. I’m moving in), I have to admit that my interest waned quickly. 12 dead, 59 injured, one shooter, body armor, crowded theater, smoke grenade, and multiple guns. All that was left to report was the shooter’s identity. While I had absolutely no interest in tracking the media tornado sure to develop around the attacker, I was interested to know who had committed such a heinous act.

I wasn’t sure what kind of person I expected it to be. But I knew what kind of person I didn’t want it to be. I did not want the assailant to be in any way perceivably Muslim or Arab for fear of reinforcing the all too accepted and ignorant stereotypes that all Muslims/Arabs are violent people. And I certainly didn’t want another Anders Breivik, where we’d find out that the shooter had been holed-up in his apartment for months drafting a political manifesto and creating the delusion that murdering a theater full of people would somehow provide him the platform needed to share it with the world.

I really needed this to be a crazy act by a crazy person, and I basically decided that since there was no way to make it not happen in the first place, then I wanted the attacker to be some crazy comic book nerd who really wished someone would just make a fucking Aquaman movie already. Aren’t there enough Batman movies by now?

Coming in summer 2028, Brad Pitt returns to the big screen in “BATMAN, The Retirement Party.” Don’t worry. It will be a comedic storyline by then.

By the end of the day on Friday, police had the alleged shooter in custody. He was not cooperating with the investigators (which reduced my Breivik concerns) and he’s not Arab or Muslim. I was done listening to the story. It was a crazy act by a crazy person. Get back to me after the trial and let me know how it turns out.

But it wasn’t that easy to ignore in the days following the shooting. Even without television access, I could not escape the media tracking every move the police made while dealing with his booby trapped apartment, and digging up every possible detail of his personal life, and tracking every blink of his eyes during his arraignment. In addition to all of the rubbernecking, there was also an immediate and overwhelming influx of gun control comments and memes (read: photos/images with simplistic quip printed on them) all over the internet.

I had naively not even thought about the issue of gun control in response to the theater shootings. I’m slow sometimes. And until two days later when a friend asked me specifically what my gun control views were, I don’t think I had ever really tried to express them.

My gun control views are admittedly underdeveloped, but I’m working on it. I think it’s not too different than the “free market” myth. No sane person can say that they don’t believe in any regulation of gun sales and availability. Should someone be able to personally own a nuclear weapon just because they can afford to buy one? How about a surface to air missile launcher? I think most people would say “no,” so we can probably agree that there should be some level of arms regulation. But where do we draw the line? That is where so many people get ridiculous, throw reason out for talking points, and start pretending that any “line” is a tyrannical attack on their constitutional rights. I wonder how comfortable they’d be when I towed a giant 200 mm gun home behind my truck and parked in the driveway coincidently aiming it into the living room across the street.

There is the argument that criminals don’t adhere to gun laws so it doesn’t matter, but by that rational we should abolish all laws. That argument is stupid on its face. Speeders don’t follow speed limits, but we don’t abolish them. Traffic laws provide the parameters needed to maintain a level of safety on the highway and define the limits needed to indentify and stop those who are endangering everyone else with their disregard of those laws.

Organizations like the NRA have muddied the waters of the debate so much that it is almost out of the realm of reason. I recently read an issue of the NRA magazine, and that thing is a political propaganda pamphlet way more than it is a magazine about guns, for gun owners. The cover article of the issue I read was a political fund-raising commercial (selling some silly coin) for the NRA to raise money to fund anti-Obama campaigns, and the fear mongering and paranoia of the article was absolutely ludicrous. I don’t believe that message of fear is based as much on the concerns against an oppressive government as it is based on the fact that it increases national gun sales and fund raising for gun-supporting organizations. Despite the current administration near silence on gun control issues, hyperbole about Obama’s secret agenda has made a lot of people a lot of money. It’s a financial policy more than constitutional politics.

I cannot think of a legitimate reason why the average citizen should need an assault rifle. But I cannot think of a legitimate reason why the average citizen should need a car that goes 200 mph either. Some people just have different hobbies. Some people like to fire a machine gun on a range or on their own property. I’ve done it. But I also don’t see why gun owners and hobbyist see registering those guns, waiting for a background check to buy them, and other regulations as some slippery slope of government threatening their personal liberties. As far as I know, if someone wants to buy a machine gun (depending on the state), they can. They might not be able to do it in 30 minutes at the local Wal-Mart, but it is possible. And if you need a machine gun in a hurry, you probably aren’t going to do anything positive with it. It can be argued that over-regulation has and can lead to a larger black market gun trade, but as with so many things, I believe a balance can be achieved if only the two sides would agree on a common reality. I hate how unlikely that is.

The vast majority of comments and memes coming out in the hours and days following the Aurora shooting expressed a steadfast belief that more guns in the theater was undoubtedly the best way to have prevented or minimized the impact of the incident. And the state of Colorado experienced a huge spike in gun sales over the weekend following the shooting. So clearly, More guns = Safety. More Gun Laws = Dictatorship. It’s as simple as that.

I don’t take issue with the possibility that a legal and responsible gun owner may have been able to end the mayhem sooner (even though the shooter was apparently wearing full body armor). I take issue with the overconfidence of that belief. There is absolutely no guaranty that another gunman would’ve done anything but added more bullets to an already very chaotic, loud, dark, and smoke filled room full of frantic people running for their lives. To deny the possibility that another legal and responsible gun owner could have very well added to the innocent casualties is arrogant and reckless. If everyone is so sure that a second shooter would’ve prevented so much of the casualties, why not put snipers in every theater’s projection booth? Think of the job creation that would be.

According to what I’ve read, the Aurora shooter bought all four of his guns and his thousands of bullets 100% legally. Could he have still acquired an assault rifle if the ban on them had not been lifted in 2004? Maybe. Maybe a 24 year old college student could have found the connections needed to buy a machine gun illegally. But maybe he wouldn’t have. Maybe that ban being in place would’ve been the parameters needed for law enforcement personnel to detect an illegal gun dealer selling assault weapons and prevent that sale. Maybe that ban would have done nothing to slow him down at all. OR maybe the entire assault rifle debate is just a distraction from the fact that the large majority of gun related deaths, and homicides in general, in this country are the result of hand guns and not assault rifles. I do not know. And neither does anyone else. And the more I see and hear people pretending to be so certain that a gun law would or wouldn’t have affected the event, the more frustrating it is.

Is it impossible to recognize the very limited need for certain types of weapons and therefore the possible merits in regulating their sale more stringently? Is it necessary? I fully support the second amendment. It is an incredibly important part of the U.S. Constitution. I’ve shot several different guns, including assault rifles. It is interesting to feel the power of a gun in your hand. I respect that power. I just don’t know if imposing any regulations at all on the access to higher risk weapons necessarily equates to limiting one’s overall right to keep and bear arms. Just like the first amendment does not protect every single word that can be uttered (i.e. yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater), the second amendment does not necessarily protect possession of any and all types of “arms.” I’m not suggesting a new ban on anything. I’m just questioning if a higher level of regulation could better aid in keeping such powerful weapons in the hands of knowledgeable and responsible people. It could be compared to the special commercial driver’s license (CDL) required to drive a tractor trailer. That is a huge and powerful automobile capable of massive casualty if mishandled, and that is why there are more stringent requirements to legally operate one. Is that same idea completely irrational when one desires to own and operate a large and powerful weapon that is actually designed to do massive damage more efficiently? I don’t think so. But I will acknowledge that this could also be an issue of proper enforcement of existing regulations.

No matter the issue, nothing will be done as long as people refuse to be reasonable with each other. I’m not sure when the word “regulation” automatically became synonymous with “tyranny,” but if it is going to be continually cast that way, what is the answer? Anarchy? I don’t think so. I don’t even think the majority of people mischaracterizing all regulation as oppressive are anywhere near anarchists in their beliefs. I just think the rhetoric in all political debate has gotten so far out of control that it’s become very difficult to maintain a reasoned debate about even the most important issues. Everything is either “good” or “evil” and there is no in between.

It is impossible to legislate away the risk of dangerous people doing dangerous things. So far I have heard of absolutely no mention of clues or warning signs in the Colorado shooter’s past. Sometimes those warning are there. Sometimes they are not. The idea that we will ever be able to legislate away the risk of crazy people doing crazy things is unrealistic. It is impossible to guaranty anyone’s safety 100 percent of the time. Hell, we’ve put huge efforts into protecting the Presidents of the United States and six of them have been shot, four fatally. But that doesn’t mean that we should abandon efforts to maintain some level of reasonable control of dangerous weapons and who is using them. There has to be a way to achieve a balanced debate on this issue. Should I be able to buy or build my own nuclear weapon? The government has them, and I have to be able to defend myself against the government. Right?

The image below was the only one I’ve seen since the shooting that I liked. I like it because it is simply an expression of perspective aimed at reminding people that there are in fact A LOT of responsible gun owners in this country that are not hurting anyone, and that do not want to. It seemed to be the only one that wasn’t making an overconfident comment about what could’ve or should’ve happened differently in that theater. I appreciated that.

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A Surprise Court Decision

By now everybody with even the most remote interest knows that in the coming hours the U.S. Supreme Court is going to announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare” to those who’ve been following the debate via bumper stickers and tabloid news). We all know that it is going to be at least partially struck down. And we all know that it will be decided by a five to four decision. How do we all know that? Because the Supreme Court is not as apolitical as it should be, and that makes it pretty predictable in cases this politicized.

I don’t want to argue specific merits of the Affordable Care Act or whether I, as an unqualified legal non-expert, believe it to be constitutional. Like most of the people holding strong opinions, and probably too many members of congress, I haven’t read the entire bill. I honestly cannot say for sure whether every part of the law is or isn’t 100% within the confines of the constitution. I’ve read compelling arguments on both sides of the issue, and lots of ridiculously stupid arguments as well. But rest assured that a lot of what we’ve heard about the bill was bullshit (death panels). And a lot of that bullshit was spread by people that knew they were lying (congress). That’s another story.

What concerns me is how accustomed people seem to have become with the possibility of a politically influenced supreme court. Every time there is any kind of controversial high profile case headed to the court we hear a lot of speculation, calculation, and debate from people that ultimately will (or should) have no affect on the final decision. Whether reporter, pundit, or opinionated co-worker, every angle will be discussed and argued to length and eventually the debate will come down to attempts to predict and justify the court’s future decision. It’s in that speculative stage that I so often hear the terms “liberal justices” and “conservative justices.” I hate those labels, and they’re mentioned so often and nonchalantly that you’d think that the Supreme Court was originally established to be a smaller version of partisan congress, tasked to assemble and debate their personal ideals in order to arbitrate matters that larger bodies of government weren’t able to settle on their own.

To my knowledge, that is not the duty of the court. My understanding is that the Supreme Court’s job is to settle interstate disputes, hear appeals from lower state and federal courts, and determine the constitutionality of passed legislation. Those tasks involve interpretations of law, not expression of political opinion. Of course a person’s personal politics may have some affect on their interpretation of law and precedent, but it should be incredibly minor and actively suppressed by the justices themselves.

In reference to judicial review, we’re not asking the court to decide if a particular statute or law is a good idea or supportive of a particular political leaning. We’re asking them, in their legal expertise, if a law passed in accordance with the legislative process described in the constitution, by the elected representatives of the citizens, and signed by the duly elected president is legally aligned with the constitution of the United States. What does the law say? And is that in violation of constitution? Whether they like the law or not should have absolutely no bearing on it at all. Each justice’s individual personal opinions have already been represented at each of their local ballot boxes when they hopefully contributed to the whopping 50ish percent of citizens who actually vote. Now their job is to read a law, interpret the merits of that law, and adjudicate the law’s constitutionality.

If I’m correct and that is the duty of the Supreme Court, then how can they be so consistently split down the same line on the most controversial cases? I don’t mean the same ratio (5:4). I mean the same division of actual justices. We’ve got the so-called “conservative justices”: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy. And then there’s the alleged “liberal justices”: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagen. In the most recent Supreme Court sessions, this particular 5-4 configuration has appeared in several controversial decisions ranging from state executions of foreign nationals to state’s campaign finance regulation to tax credits for private schools. This was the split that decided Montana’s 100 year old state election finance laws could not limit corporate financial influence because of 2010’s Citizens United decision. This was the split when the high court decided that the police can legally strip search anyone that is arrested “even if there is no reason to suspect that the individual is carrying contraband.” And of course the actual Citizen’s United case was decided by the same split except John Paul Stevens was still serving on the court in the spot where Kagen would later be selected.

Yes, I know that the court has faced criticisms of partisan influence for nearly as long as it’s existed. I also know that the court manages to smoothly adjudicate a large number of cases each session without significant controversy, with different justices agreeing and disagreeing independent of their alleged party members. They even make a number of unanimous decisions in many of the lesser known cases brought before them. The many examples of the justices making unanimous decisions, or apparent non-partisan decisions are what makes the predictable 5-4 split on controversial decisions so suspicious.

Is the legal wording of these laws really so murky that nine highly educated and experienced professionals in the field of law cannot read the same words and come to any level of consensus on what those words mean? Or are they just as dedicated to their party’s ideals and biases as the rest of government, and therefore incapable of setting them aside long enough to do one of the most important and influential jobs in government?

We’ve come to expect, and unfortunately accept, grid locking bitterness between political parties and ideologies. No matter your political leanings, that contentious inaction is stifling to the country. But congressional inaction can theoretically be solves by simply electing different representatives that are capable of adult dialogue and reasoning. Supreme Court decisions can only be reversed by the court itself reversing that decision or by the drastic (and difficult) step of amending the U.S. Constitution. With such a high probability of permanence in their decisions, it is of utmost importance that they base those decisions on legal statute and not party politics.

I’d love a surprise court decision. I’m not necessarily asking for the court to uphold the Health Care law, though that would be a surprise. I just want an unpredictable decision on this bill. I want a decision that would make clear that the justices based their decisions on the legal merits of the law and not the political leanings of their party. I want an 8-1 decision in either direction. Or a 5-4 decision where Kennedy supports the law and Sotomayor doesn’t. At quick glance, they appear the most willing to make decisions independent of their media-assigned groupings. And I want to read the decisions and explanations of those decisions. I want to see logical legal reasoning of precedent and not some hypothetical bullet shot or dodged by the court. I want the terms “liberal justices” and “conservative justices” retired from the lexicon. They’re judges. And any personal bias should be undetectable.

I need the court to do something that will make it clear that they truly appreciate their duty to the country and the heavy weight of their gavels. I’d love to reread this blog on Friday and feel foolish for being so presumptuous an untrusting of the highest court in the land. I’ve been wrong so many times in my life. I’d love to be wrong on this one.

Who Cares What You Think?


I have recently been involved in a short series of political debates with a friend. The specific subject of the debates or which position(s) we each took during the discussions is not important. What’s important is that my friend’s opinions won’t matter. Not because I don’t share them, but because he’s not going to voice them. He’s a good guy and his opinions are not drastically controversial or dangerous. His opinions are irrelevant because he’s allowing them to be. He’s not planning to vote. When I asked why, he replied “because they’re all fucked up.” Because he thinks both parties are broken, he’s not going to vote at all. What kind of logic is that? I’m not picking on my friend singularly. He’s not at all alone in this sentiment. I have read and/or heard many others say similar things.

“I refuse to participate is a system that is so corrupt.”

“My vote doesn’t matter anyway.”

“The system is rigged.”

“They’ve already picked their winner, so why bother?”

Each statement contains some level of understandable distrust or frustration with government. I definitely get that. But they are all essentially saying the same thing; “No one is listening to me.” And I believe that not voting in response to feeling disenfranchised is exactly the same thing as sitting really still and really quiet as a response to being ignored. It makes absolutely no sense.

Yesterday during Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall election, an NPR commentator reported that voter turnout could potentially reach more than 100%. It was not an allegation of corruption, but instead a play on words, or maybe statistics. Typical voter turnout percentages are reported as a percentage of the voting-age population that participates in a given election. In this case, the reporter was instead basing his number on the percentage of registered voters participating. And the greater than 100% number was only possible because in Wisconsin, an unregistered voter is able to walk up to the polls, register to vote, and immediately cast a vote. And apparently that was happening A LOT, in effect increasing the voter participation above the previously understood number of registered voters. In these terms, I believe that Madison’s voter turnout ended up being something like 119%.

That idea of getting such high voter participation is the only positive thing I can find in the recall story, since as I expected, it was unsuccessful. But it is hard to dispute anything that is actually a result of the full voice of the voters.

[Note: It’s hard to dispute such results, but not impossible. I just don’t want to get into the inexplicably legal use of misinformation in campaign ads. Maybe another day.]

People’s disregard for their own right to vote is upsetting because I feel like that malaise is desired, expected, and taken advantage of by different political movements that have no desire to represent all of the people or to do what is good for society as a whole.

Any politician in this country that wants to call him or herself a “leader” or especially a “patriot” should want the highest voter participation possible, but that is too often not the case. Winning a seat in office seems to be far more important than being a true representative of the people. And voter suppression is a very popular strategy for winning.

In 2006, four members of John Kerry’s 2004 campaign were convicted of slashing the tires of vans rented by the Wisconsin Republican Party that were going to be used by Republican election monitors. In 2008, the Republican Party unsuccessfully tried to have 60,000 voters in the traditionally Democratic city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin removed from the rolls. In Maryland’s 2010 gubernatorial election, the republican candidate Bob Ehrlich’s campaign launched over 100,000 robocalls to predominantly black Democratic districts telling them that the Democratic candidate had already won and that there was no need to vote, even though the polls were not yet closed and no winner had been decided (Source). Why would anyone pretending to care about their state or country want to suppress anyone’s voice in that area?

The nation’s voter participation is already low enough. If voter turnout in an election is only 50%, and the race is tight, then it is conceivable that only 26% of the people are going to be making decisions for 100% of the people. Why would anyone be satisfied with that? Especially so-called leaders? The 2008 Presidential election had the highest voter turnout since the late 1960’s with a whopping 61% of registered voters casting a vote. That’s higher than normal and much higher than the average 40% turnout during non-presidential election years. But where are the other 40% to 60% of the people? I hope they’re not the one’s complaining in all of those chat and comment sections of online news articles. I hope it’s not the people with the cars covered in hateful bumper stickers. If you’re not voting, stop griping.

Some political scientists have suggested that low voter turnout can imply either disenchantment or contentment within the electorate. While I see how both are possible, I don’t think it is too much of a stretch in recent times to doubt the likelihood of the latter in major elections. People say that as a country we have always experienced a certain level of political divisiveness, but it’s hard to deny the widening split happening right now. Some polls alleged that during the Wisconsin recall election cycle as many as one in three people in the state claimed to have stopped talking to a friend or family member due to political differences. When the political discourse degrades to the point where families can’t even endure the tension, what are the chances of our country of strangers pulling together for any kind of common good?

While overall contentment seems unlikely, the people’s contentment with an expected outcome, or at least acceptance of one, can lead to a lower voter turnout. And that can be a very useful tool as well. The state of North Carolina recently included an amendment to its state constitution on the primary ballot. Surely if the state legislature really wanted the people’s opinion on that amendment, they would’ve put it on the general election ballot in November. It is a Presidential election year after all, which reliably brings a higher turnout. But because the amendment concerned the controversial issue of gay marriage, it was safer to put it on the May primary ballot instead. Presidential nominees are often already decided prior to May (as it was this year), there was no national Democratic primary to draw that constituency to the polls, and primary election participation in general is reliably lower. So that’s where they put the initiative. The predictable and reliable complacency in that situation was a very useful tool. Low turnout allowed a very small percentage of the state’s electorate to change the constitution.

No matter what political party you align with, or if you do at all, there is no noble reason to want less election participation. The higher the turnout, the more accurate the measure of the people’s will. The more fractured our voices become, and the more secluded we make ourselves from each other, the less likely that we will ever truly progress as a nation. Nationwide consensus is an unrealistic goal, but for a democratic republic to work, shouldn’t we really want to hear its full voice? Do we really want small factions to buy a greater voice, or to actively try to silence another demographic’s viewpoint? Is that really what is going to make us great? I don’t see how.

I’m not sure of all the reasons for such consistently low turnout. It could be complacence in some, disenchantment in others, and maybe simple indifference. But it may just be hardship for many as well. Our national elections are predominantly held on Tuesday, which is a work day for most people. Sure the polls are open for roughly twelve hours, but for people with a family and a job, it isn’t hard to fill that twelve hour window with other obligations. For many of the lesser privileged among us, the idea of taking a day off work in order to go stand in line and vote isn’t realistic at all. The lines themselves are a deterrent. Having some lines may not be avoidable, but there has to be a way to keep them short and/or fast moving. Many people simply cannot afford to spend hours at the polls. These circumstances all contribute to lower voter turnout, and often that lower turnout is more prevalent in the lower socioeconomic class. That alone is a large group of people whose voice is statistically under-represented. Is that voice less valuable? I don’t think so. I want everyone’s voice heard. Even the one’s I don’t agree with at all.

Unfortunately, I cannot claim to know the solutions to low voter participation any more than I could claim to know the causes. I’ve heard some suggest that Election Day should be on weekends, or that it should be a national holiday in order to allow higher participation. Others have suggested an embrace of technology that would allow online voting, and greatly reduce the schedule conflicts that discourages participation. Mexico, Australia, and most South American countries have compulsory voting systems in which failing to participate in elections can be met with punitive measures ranging from monetary fines to jail-time. I don’t think that is the answer, but who knows? I’ve been wrong so many times before.

I’ve wondered if peoples’ understandable love of their weekends would discourage voter participation in that situation. How many people want to spend any part of their short and very valuable weekend standing in line at the polls? Likewise, I’m not sure if a holiday wouldn’t be viewed as an equally valuable slice of “free time.” Online voting seems a very good idea, but with such varying access to computers and equally varying capabilities, it probably isn’t as immediately possible as some would like. And those access and capability issues are likely to continue to disenfranchise the same lower economic classes as the current system.

In short, I’m doubtful that any institutional change is the magic answer. People’s attitudes may be more to blame. People are easily discouraged by the appearance of misrepresentation. People are understandably disgusted by the vitriolic nature of campaigning. People are lazy. Some people just don’t understand how government works and think that the President is responsible for everything. That has to be some part of why so few people participate in congressional and state elections. It’s easy to blame the president for everything, and if you believe that, you’ve only got to vote once every four years. And of course the television ads are all of the research needed to make that decision.

Maybe it’s easier than I thought to see why someone wouldn’t want to bother voting. But it is the most valuable role that we all have in our government. There is more we can do; from activism, to direct campaigning, to financial contributions, to simple sharing of information. But voting is essential. Voting is not an automatic endorsement of the two-party system or of the candidates that are presented. I know people who have voted third party candidates in at least the last 4 elections. They didn’t do it because they thought that candidate could win. They did it because it is their voice and they wanted it documented. They did it because they are American citizens who value their voting right enough to actually use it. Each of those voters is more of an American Patriot than two rich brothers buying influence in the election of a state they don’t live in.

Why should anyone care about your political opinion if you don’t care enough about it to record it on a ballot?

Death Of Discussion

Yesterday, I stumbled across this flowchart designed to help someone determine if he or she is having a rational discussion or not, and more importantly when to cut one’s losses and walk away.  It made me wonder how many political and personal debates would be stopped immediately if this model was utilized.  I know that debate and discussion are not necessarily synonyms, but I don’t see how you can have a civil debate without a foundation of respectful and fact-based discussion.

image source:  http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/how-to-have-a-rational-discussion/ 

Last year 12 representatives from both the house and senate (six from each party) were mislabeled as a ”Super Committee” and tasked with finding ways to reduce the nation’s budget deficit.  Democrats had previously agreed to spending cuts in some of the programs that the party traditionally supported, but it was not enough to satisfy the deficit reduction requirements.  All six republican representatives had previously signed Grover Norquist’s ATR pledge never to raise taxes in any way for any reason, so the possibility for revenue increases was impossible (unless they put the good of the country over their pledge to a lobbyist, but c’mon).  That committee was doomed from the start. And because it was a stupid idea to begin with, maybe it should’ve been.  But if they had referenced the very first box in the above flowchart, they could’ve stopped pretending and gone home to their families for all of those weeks.  Failure was inevitable. 

What is the goal of these people that run for public office on the promise that they will never compromise on anything?  What is the goal of the voters that support that attitude?  Does any one party honesty think that they are eventually going to convince everyone in the country to agree with them?  Or do they think that people with opposing viewpoints are going to miraculously disappear?  To answer “Yes” to either of the last two questions is to admit delusion.  And admitting to simply not care at all about people of differing opinions is perhaps too honest.  Everybody knows that honesty will get you nowhere in politics.

We can’t split the country in half again.  Sorry, but we can’t and we’re not going to.  Besides all of the political reasons why we can’t, the current cultural differences are not conveniently separated along geographical lines.  And we’re not going to do it. We are going to have to get along.  We have to share this country, this world, and this planet.  How are we ever going to do that if we can’t even share a simple conversation?  What are we supposed to expect from representatives that can’t even share the same reality, much less a rational discussion?  The public gets different politicians spouting off contradictory facts on issues ranging from economic policy to scientific study.  I don’t understand.  Does “fact” even mean the same thing anymore? 

Hell, there hasn’t been a Planned Parenthood discussion in years that accurately portrays just how little of what they actually do is related to abortions.  A year ago, during a budget debate that could’ve potentially shut down the federal government, Jon Kyl of Arizona lied on the Senate floor that abortions were “well over 90%” of what Planned Parenthood does.  And when corrected that it was actually about 3%, do you think he consulted the second box of the flowchart, stopped and corrected himself?  Nope.  He just admitted that he wasn’t trying to make a factual statement in the first place. 

Is that better?  He lied.  He was corrected.  And he basically just said, “Yeah. I know, but it served my purposes.”  And this dedication to dishonest discourse in politics was rewarded with an appointment to the doomed Super Committee later that same year.  A fine American indeed.

On Sunday, some dipshit preacher in North Carolina suggested interning homosexuals in electrified fences until they eventually go extinct, as a solution to “the problem” of homosexuality.  You know, because “they kaint reep’rdoose.”  He suggested internment camps!  Are you serious?  What country is this?  What decade is it?  What century are we in?  Why not just burn the witches?  

I guess that medical-genius forgot that all of those “lesbians and queers,” he thinks Jesus wants him to hate so much, were actually born to the heterosexual parents that would still be free to birth more of the devil’s work.  I’d explain it to him, but I’m guessing that science isn’t his strong suit.

You can’t fix stupid. But I still have hope that we can outnumber it if we try.

His argument fails almost every part of the flow chart.  He’s just clueless and clearly anything but civil.  But my question is the same.  What is the motivation?  Does he really want to do that?  Does anyone really want to sequester every person that doesn’t share their views?  Where would that policy end?  What would society’s reaction be if someone said that they wanted to round up all Christians and put them into an electrically charged fenced-in concentration camp?  Just trying to keep unfounded religious beliefs out of school science classes is being called a “war on religion” by some.  This guy wants internment camps.  What should we call that?  

And before someone tries to say he was joking, remember that jokes are supposed to be funny, and that congregation wasn’t laughing.  They were agreeing.  It’s disgusting. 

After my previous blog spilled out as much more of an angry rant than I really intended any of these posts to become, I’m glad that this flowchart found its way to me as a reminder to try and stay civil. I would be lying if I claimed to have never violated these simple rules myself.  Anyone who has been kind enough to read some of my earlier blogs knows that I have strong opinions about certain issues and in different moments of weakness I have involved myself in conversations that could never possibly benefit me or anyone else.  For instance, I see absolutely no reason to limit the civil rights of homosexuals and I don’t know what could possibly change my mind about that.  So by the rules of this flowchart I really should never discuss it and maybe shouldn’t have written my previous blog (are blogs technically discussions?).  What can I say?  I’m flawed. 

But what I don’t do is lie to make a point.  Have I been wrong?  Oh yeah.  And I was quick to go to the second block and stop using that argument.  I don’t like being wrong.  But I hate liars, especially when they’re being paid to affect national politics.  And unless the people of Arizona are collectively a bunch of liars, they should’ve been outraged with their supposed representative Mr. Kyl.  I wish congresspersons and senators were sworn under oath to tell the truth before speaking on the floor.  Maybe they’d at least attempt to research their point and stick to actual facts. 

I’m also so assured of the possibility that I could be wrong, that I’m generally reluctant to speak in absolutions or to rule out another’s argument before allowing myself to fully understand it.  I appreciate civil conversation.  I wish I saw more of them.  I wish I was better at it sometimes.  But a quick glance into the comment section of any online news article is enough to make you want to store some canned goods and ammunition and just wait for the revolution.  The anonymity of online communication may be part of what is murdering civility of conversation in the real world, and it gets more unsettling every day. 

And finally, I can assure you that I do not want to intern, sequester, or incarcerate any non-violent law abiding person(s) simply because we don’t agree.  I just don’t.  Truth be told, I want many of the people already in jail to be freed.  I worry about how comfortable people are becoming with simply locking away or hiding people that they are not comfortable with. For example, there are way too many non-violent drug offenders being very expensively housed in jails and prisons right now and you never hear any of the budget hawks trying to reduce those numbers. 

But that’s a blog for another day. 

If you have to lie to make your point, you don’t have one.  If facts don’t support your argument, you’re probably on the wrong side of it.  And if making invisible those people you disapprove of is the only thing that can stop your hatred, then close your eyes.  It will be easier on everybody.  And it’s free.

I’m Guilty as Hell

I could not be more embarrassed, disappointed, and angry that my home-state of North Carolina decided to ADD discrimination and bigotry to our State Constitution.  I’ll ignore the politics of putting a state constitutional amendment on a primary ballot, in effect guarantying a low voter turnout and making such a significant change easier to affect.  I’ll ignore it because I suspect that the outcome would’ve been the same during the November election.  But wouldn’t it be nice if the seekers of such significant changes would seek out a higher level of participation, not lower?  Cowards.

What I am wondering is why we don’t just ban marriage to any and all non-Christians?  Why are we beating around the burning bush on this issue? I am not implying that homosexuals cannot be Christians or denying that many in fact are Christians.  But there is no secular reason for this restriction and if the restriction is based on religion, then it violates the separation of church and state.  People cannot force their religious beliefs on others.  They shouldn’t even want to.  Is “forced faith” even possible?

Marriage is a legal contract between two adult citizens that has absolutely nothing to do with any organized religion. People of differing religious beliefs can legally marry.    Atheists can marry.  Pagans can get married.  In some states, with parental consent and a judicial waiver, even children as young as 13 are allowed to marry.  Read that last one again.  Wow.

So how are we possibly justifying limiting consenting adult homosexuals’ access to this legal institution?

Easy.  Because some Christians call homosexuality an abomination and some non-Christian intolerants just think it’s gross.  Therefore they have decided that because of their own personal beliefs, homosexuals are not allowed the freedoms allowed to all other citizens, both believers and non-believers.  It is indefensible. 

I know, that the bible says “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” (Lev 18:22).  But it also says “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”  (Lev 20:10).  No one is trying to put adulterers to death, so we clearly accept that our government laws are not required to align with the bible’s instruction.  I’m glad we got that cleared up.

No one’s superstition or prejudices should be allowed to limit the freedoms of another person.  Homosexuality poses absolutely no threat to anyone in this country.  It really is that simple. 

People can talk about the sanctity of marriage, but we all know that heterosexuals, including some good god-fearing politicians that support this discrimination, ruined whatever sanctity there was in marriage a long time ago.  And if allowing homosexuals to marry somehow sullies your own marriage, then there was a serious weakness in that union to begin with.  In reality (whether people choose to live in it or not), allowing gay marriage will have absolutely no affect on heterosexual marriage.

People will talk about the negative effects on the children of gay parents, but it could be argued that society’s open discrimination is more the cause of trauma than the loving union at home.  Not to mention that the lack of conclusive evidence of these negative effects.  Some recent studies have indicated that children with lesbian and gay parents show more empathy for social diversity.  And we all know how negatively viewed empathy is these day. 

Stop being assholes to my friends.  They have asked for nothing but the exact same rights and freedoms that every other citizen takes for granted.  They should’ve never had to ask for it.  We should be ashamed that they have to fight so hard for it now.  I know I am.

This ban will not stand the test of time.  Even the N.C. State Speaker of the House, Thom Tillis said “I think it will be repealed in 20 years.”  But at some point the federal government will legalize gay marriage for all citizens.  And when it finally does, all of the “liberty defenders” out there that sat silent during this and the other twenty-nine states’ attack on the freedoms of homosexual will all start to cry about state’s rights.  Bullshit!  So far, thirty states have gotten this one dead wrong.  There is no way to defend such clear discrimination towards innocent and nonthreatening American citizens.  It is bigotry.

Bigotry is the state of mind of a “bigot” a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one who exhibits intolerance or animosity toward members of a group.  (wikipedia)          

Bigotry:  noun, 1. Stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.  2.  The actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot. (dictionary.com)

And I’m guilty as hell.  I am completely intolerant of bigots.

Self Made Fantasy

 

 

By now anyone that pays any attention to what the Presidential candidates are saying has heard about Mitt Romney’s ridiculous assertion that young people should just “take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.” This advice makes perfect sense to him since, in his fantastical reality, all people are born into families affluent enough to bankroll their kid’s every wish, whim, and dream. But if his chauffeur ever takes a wrong turn into a working class community, he might see some of the people that are working hard every day just to pay their mortgage and feed their kids. He might see that there are hardworking Americans out there that are stretching every dime just to get by. And he might note that very few of them are complaining about it.

 Of course if his chauffeur ever takes the wrong exit into one of those low income/high crime neighborhoods that he’s heard about on television, all he’d see is a reason to fire his chauffeur. He likes doing that.

 Mitt Romney suggesting that young people should just borrow money from their parents is just further proof of his inability to connect to the reality of the American working class. But that disconnect is already so clear that to debate it any further would be like debating the roundness of the earth. Anyone paying attention already knows it, and far too much of the extreme right will deny it despite clear evidence.

 What his statement reminded me of was just how many so called “self-made” men and women truly believe that they did it all on their own. Why doesn’t everybody just borrow 25,000 dollars from their dad, after graduating from prep-school, and start a company like Jimmy John Liautaud did? Clearly the answer is laziness and over-dependence on the nanny state.

 There are too many wealthy people in this country that ignore the benefits of growing up with wealth, security, superior education opportunities, and often inherited business advantage. And judging by some of their attitudes towards the U.S. government, they clearly don’t recognize the sheer advantage of simply being born in America. The established education and infrastructure systems of this country have literally paved the way for accelerated economic growth for generations. Not to mention the overall benefits of living in a consistently safe and secure country.  Having an educated populous provides both a more easily adaptable work force to draw from as well as a motivated and viable consumer base. Our utilities and transportation infrastructures have allowed businesses in this country to focus their energy on their specific field of innovation while taking for granted the means needed to get their product (whether it be information, technology, or manufacturing) distributed across the country and the globe. Throughout U.S. history, our government has provided a pallet for success that is so taken for granted now that these self-made patriots have convinced themselves that they’ve conquered the system and made themselves into the successful people that they are in spite of it and therefore owe nothing in return. And their disrespect of the country has now become a political movement dedicated to denying the government’s past services to society and to cutting it “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

 I wonder how many financially lucrative lobbying firms Grover Norquist would have founded if he had been born in Sudan. I’m guessing none, because he would have spent his teen years trying to survive in a country torn apart by civil war instead of volunteering for the Nixon campaign in this overgrown monster of a government. Luckily he was able to persevere through his Ivy League education (note: this was before a college education was considered an elitist liberal indoctrination), and channel that determined spirit into tax avoidance and the dismantling of the systems that make so much success possible. What a patriot.

 No one is saying that none of the most successful people in America have ever worked hard, or that they necessarily had anything handed to them (though many did). Most of the successful people in this country worked incredibly hard. But the idea that they did it all on their own in spite of the country’s system of government seems to feed into the idea that the lesser successful people in this country just don’t try hard enough and therefore don’t deserve our respect, and certainly not our empathy. Too many of the upper income recipients hold their advantaged success as evidence of the vitality of The American Dream without any recognition or understanding that some people have to fight equally as hard as they did just to avoid starvation and homelessness. The finish line in America is roughly the same for everybody. It’s the starting line that varies so wildly, and for perceived leaders to deny an advantaged starting position is disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst. And to go further after so much success, and attempt to dismantle the system so integral to their own success while ignoring the people still working so hard within it is insulting.

 What is more unsettling to me is the segment of true working class society that has overcome real adversity in order to achieve even a modest level of success, and upon achieving that success joins themselves ideologically with the elite (that will never truly respect them) in their attack on the government structure that allowed them their opportunities. People that studied hard in an underfunded school system in order to get the best education they could to move on to higher education and greater employment, but choose to look back at the others languishing in that same path with disdain instead of understanding. People that took a high-school education and mixed it with years of back breaking work to build a career for themselves and then choose to look at others struggling in the bog of high un-employment just to say “get a job ya bum,” as though it’s really that simple.

 Why do the richest among us automatically get so much respect from the hardest working members of our society, while the poorest among us get inaccurately labeled as non-working leaches of the system? The rich should not be demonized for being successful, any more than the less fortunate should be characterizing as ne’er do wells always looking for a handout, especially with more evidence every year that the richest among us are paying so little back into the system. Is that not a handout? They get all of the enormous financial benefits of living and doing business in this great country but aren’t expected to give anything in return. And save that “job creator” silliness.  I’m not buying it.  Everybody wants the guy with nothing to get “some skin in the game,” but doesn’t seem to mind at all that huge American corporations funnel billions of dollars out of our country every year in order to avoid paying taxes back into the system.

 It’s disrespectful to the country that made their success possible, and the more they want to deny that, and the more they want to dismantle the things that made their success possible while attacking the less fortunate, the more I disrespect them in return. The rich didn’t work harder than everyone else. The rich don’t work harder than everyone else now. And the rich don’t deserve my respect simply because they have a bigger bank account. I don’t measure human value in that denomination.

Single Term Activism

I have stated more than a few times my belief that term limits at every level of American politics would be a good first step towards having a government that is more accurately representative of the people. I’ve probably annoyed some poor bastard at the end of a bar (or worse, in an online exchange), by going on and on about how career politicians become jaded by spending too much time in financially corrupted Washington, and not nearly enough time back in their state or local districts with the people they are supposed to be working for. But I have to admit, that while I still believe that we need term limits, something I read yesterday made me appreciate the possible risks on the other side of that coin.

Embarrassingly, it’s a risk that I’ve joked about in the past but somehow missed the reality of its potential.

This week Florida governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have provided 1.6 million dollars in funding for Rape Crisis Centers across his state, a move that seems to outrage his detractors even more because it happened during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Reading about Rick Scott making yet another unpopular decision didn’t surprise me at all. What surprised me was being able to read the comments section of the article and observe the unbelievable…Near Consensus. Not consensus as in total agreement, but rather in a lack of conflict. There was no snarky arguing. Everyone’s comments ran along the lines of “how did he even get elected”, or “why would any women want to vote for him,” or why does it seem like the Republican Party is “trying to lose all of its independent supporters.”

I read a lot of online news and opinion articles from a number of sources, and seeing so much calm in the comments section of a political article is unheard of. Whether it be Fox News or MSNBC, CNN or HUFF POST, the comments section is almost always an over-the-top and unnecessarily aggressive collection of personal jabs towards those with opposing views, grandiose preaching against the “true enemy,” and near delusional warnings of the apocalyptic result of voting for the wrong presidential candidate. Oh, and the Ron Paul supporters. They have apparently called an unofficial and never-ending meeting to be held in the “comments” section of every news article remotely related to national politics. “Ron Paul 2012.” I get it. If I don’t support Dr. Paul, I must not understand.

Whatever.

Now, I’m not a Florida resident (thankfully) and I don’t have any reliable information about the need for that funding. But according to the Governor’s office, “There was no information suggesting any needs in this area weren’t already being met.” And according to the executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, “We gave them information about the number of new survivors we have and we showed them that these rape crisis centers have waiting lists. We included quotes from the programs about the waiting lists and what services they weren’t able to offer because of a lack of money. There is clearly an unmet need.” I do not know which is true, but I suspect that it’s a little of both. The FCASV probably provided what they felt was clear evidence of their need, and the Governor’s office decided that it wasn’t an important enough need to sign the bill that was passed by the Florida legislature. That’s the governor’s legal prerogative. And the good people of Florida did give him that power when they elected him.

How did they elect him? Why would women vote for him? Why does it appear that he’s trying to alienate so much of the public? Because low voter turnout in midterm elections means that fewer people are paying attention. Because the expected low voter turnout results in less detailed election coverage and he may not have had to voice his opinions about women‘s issues. And because he doesn’t need the public support unless he actually wants to get re-elected.

The short answer is because of the Tea Party. And the fact that as an organization, they are smarter than people want to admit. Rick Scott is just one of several U.S. governors who swept into office in the 2010 election cycle due in large part to Tea Party support. The Tea Party’s grassroots organization is a small minority of people in this country, but with fewer people participating and a well-organized voter outreach network, that minority can heavily influence state elections.

The Tea Party’s presidential choices are still being chased from the scene early, and rightfully so. But that quick dispatch of their national candidates might be giving people the illusion that they’re stupid. On the contrary, they wisely moved their fight to the lesser observed state elections and took advantage of the midterm election. And they will likely try it again in 2014 while everyone is watching Dancing With The Stars and complaining about the horrible job the current president is doing-no matter who wins this year.

Scott (who 15 yrs ago collected roughly 350 million dollars to resign as CEO of Columbia/HCA during an investigation resulting in 14 felony confessions including fraudulent Medicare billing), Paul LaPage, ME (supports teaching creationism in public schools, and doesn’t understand “how people, at least sane people, would want to allow transgender in our primary schools and our high schools.”), and Scott Walker, WI (who rolled back 2009 state tax increases on capital gains and the highest income earners, and cut state employee wages and benefits to help pay for the tax cuts) all enjoyed Tea Party support in their drive to the governors’ offices in 2010. These are the Tea Party Patriots trying to save America by keeping it from ever coming together.

Part of the Tea Party platform that I’ve always been able to appreciate, at least on a surface level, was the disdain towards career politicians. But I think they may have swung that pendulum too far to the other side and decided to seek out candidates that have no need or desire to be re-elected at all. Once in office they do not have to worry themselves with representing the people or running for office again, so they can just run as many of their right-wing initiatives through the system as possible and stall or kill as much of the legislation that they don’t agree with.

Rick Scott allegedly spent 75 million dollars of his own money during his campaign for the 133 thousand dollar salary as governor of Florida. And he wasted no time making a name for himself. He has been sued for trying to block a previously voter approved amendment to the state constitution that banned district gerrymandering. He rejected federal funding to develop high-speed rail even after a veto-proof majority of the Florida Senate asked the Department of Transportation to continue the funding. He signed several bills affecting women’s access to legal abortions including the infamous ultrasound requirement. He’s done whatever he wants. And if people want to re-elect him when his term is over, I’m sure he’ll accept it. But if they don’t, I imagine he’ll happily go back into the venture capital business and donate funds the next asshole’s campaign.

It’s the extreme negative possibility of the “no more career politicians” movement. And while I am still in support of term limits in general, it made me wonder if instating them would result in “final term activists” that would just use the freedom of not having to run again as a blank check to run their own personal agendas through the state’s legislative process as hard as they can.

I guess what I’m slowly realizing is that no amount of legislative rule or campaign guidelines or term limitations will eliminate selfish assholes from government as long as equally selfish assholes still vote.

I do however feel like it would be a whole other world if everyone that were eligible to vote did vote, and voted in every local, state, and federal election that they are legally able to participate. Voting only for the President while ignoring the rest of the ballot and all of the other elections is probably as close to doing nothing as you can get and still get that “I voted” sticker.