Thursday, March 29, 2012

Let's bring everyone back in...

American systems are broken. Our political system is broke. Our economic system is broken. Our judicial system is broke. Our educational system is broke. I’m not going to go into examples of how and why these systems are broken, but I think that while people may disagree over the levels of dysfunction in these institutions, most people would agree that they’re all messed up and headed in the wrong direction.
So, short of completely overhauling our system – which basically would be mean scrapping our constitution and re-writing it (not a bad idea, but a proposal fraught with its own issues of who to write it and how to change it) – what we need is to change the way the people in this country interact with their institutions; government and other.
One major change that would help connect people more to their political system – and in my opinion, thereby connect them more to all of the institutions in our lives – would be to create a compulsory voting system in this country. Compulsory (or mandatory) voting would be helpful, because not only would it push voting numbers up to more democratic levels (the mid-terms had a 37% voter participation rate – disgraceful), but would also re-engage citizens in the politics and political process. In addition, voter participation on the level that we’re seeing in the Australia (95%), which has a fine-based mandatory voting process, would help weed out extreme candidates, and stifle ascension of highly partisan groups such as the tea party from become major political forces.
Voting day can also be made a mandatory national holiday, so that citizens have no excuses for not turning out to vote, and companies have no excuses for remaining open. Mobile voting centers can be setup to aid elderly or infirmed voters with the process, and those who are absolutely unable to participate may get a waiver through an extensive process of unenrollment, that would need to be re-submitted for every election.
Voting should be compulsory for both local and national elections. The reason this is important is because if we have extremists in our local office, they become our experienced lawmakers, and therefore will tend to move onto the next level. Rick Santorum is a perfect example of this. Santorum is a highly-partisan, ultra-religious extremist, but because he has moved through the levels of politics using a hard Christian-conservative bloc as his base, he’s been able to make his way all the way into a primary fight for the Republican nomination as President of the United States. But Rick Santorum in no way reflects the general feelings or beliefs of even a large minority in this country. His base is small, but fierce; they always vote, and always get their friends to vote. And when no one else is voting, it’s the extremists on both sides that decide both our local and national elections.
The argument against compulsory voting is that it infringes upon our rights. Personally, I feel that this argument is flimsy. There are several things that the government – whether local or federal – requires us to do. We’re required to sign up for selective service. We’re required to pay taxes. We’re required to serve on juries. And there are always caveats to these laws and people who flout the system, but on the whole, the majority of people participate in these activities. In addition, each citizen should only be required to register and show up on Election Day, they have no requirement to vote for a specific candidate, or vote for any candidate at all. There should be options to either write in a person’s own selection, or to completely abstain and select something like “I do not wish to vote”. This would give people who have a moral (or religious) opposition to the voting or political process a chance to withhold their active participation. And for those who say that they don’t want to participate because the system is broken, what is a better way to change the system than participate. The system is what the system is, and if we can’t completely overhaul it, isn’t it better to be able to change it from within.
The arguments against compulsory voting are mainly hyperbolic, and have nothing to do with any real negative impacts on the political process or the country in general. Therefore, to reduce hyper-partisanship, increase voter participation and engagement, and restore democracy to our fragile and disintegrating institutions, it’s time to implement compulsory voting into our local and national electoral processes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Things are tough all over...

Okay, I understand that the police have a difficult job. They have to make spit-second, sometime life-or-death, decisions. They are tasked with protecting the communities which they serve, and preventing crime and bringing justice if a crime is committed.
So why is it that so many people don’t trust the police? Why is it that so many people are afraid of the police? Well, I think that we as citizens fail to recognize that police look at the world from a completely different perspective. On-duty police (and even many off-duty police) look at the world and see potential criminals. If someone is doing something they deem to be out of the ordinary, they think there is justification for investigation. But what is “out of ordinary”? I supposed that depends on the individual officer, and therein lies the central problem. Sure, I think it’s important for officers to use intuition to monitor someone they believes is up to no good.
But why is it that in our country “up to no good” all too often means young black men? Are young white men never up to no good? Are you women never up to no good? Or is it that the police are hyper-focused – as the rest of society is – on young black men (and black men in general) as being suspicious and potentially dangerous? We can look at numerous examples where the police were following “suspicious” individuals (interestingly most of these individuals happen to be black men), the police sometimes undercover or in plain clothes, and wonder why an individual would run or react when the individual that was following them (ESPECIALLY when they’ve done nothing wrong), starts to run after them or pulls out a weapon. I know as a white male, if somebody starts threateningly walking toward me, and especially if they started to pull out a weapon, I would run as fast as I could.
The police never recognize that someone would feel this way, because they know they’re police officers. Never does it occur to them that the individual may not speak English; may not understand what they say; may start to run or walk away quickly as a precaution as soon as they see someone eyeing them suspiciously. Just because you run or walk away quickly from someone, it doesn’t mean that you’re a criminal. In fact, it usually means you’re probably scared yourself. The police need to recognize this, and act accordingly.
However, what the police – and society – above all need to recognize is that a young black man in a hoodie is not automatically suspicious. A young black man in a hoodie can be suspicious; but in the same way that a young white man in a hoodie, and young Asian woman in a hoodie, an old Hispanic woman in a hoodie, or anyone else in a hoodie, is suspicious. They’re only suspicious if they’re doing something suspicious. Walking down the street is NOT SUSPICIOUS. While George Zimmerman, and unfortunately man other people in this country, think that a young black man walking down the street in a certain neighborhood is suspicious, they’re wrong; and too often they’re dead wrong – although the death is that of the [non-]”suspicious” person, not themselves.
George Zimmerman has yet to be locked up, and that is a miscarriage of justice. I will reiterate what I’ve said in previous posts; I’m not trying to declare that George Zimmerman is guilty, but this shooting death should be treated like any other murder that takes place. We have his statement that it is self defense; he needs to be arrested, taken in for questioning, and the burden of proving self-defense will be on him just as it would be on anyone else in a potential murder investigation.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Let's reset...

I know I just talked about the Trayvon Martin murder yesterday, but I think that this topic warrants a continued discussion. About two months ago, I had written a length post about racial relations in this country, and the stagnation in the civil rights movement. I had written his, but then lost the text, and could not remember exactly what I wrote, and have not yet re-written it.
While I’m not going to re-write it now, I think the situation reveals a serious racial cleavage that we still have in this country. While the civil rights movement was transformative for this country, the so-called end of the civil rights movement fell short of anything resembling equality or the onset of some post-racial society. The civil rights movement opened the eyes of many people in this country, and did a lot to push forward equality for African-Americans and other minorities in this country; however, the mountaintop has not been reached. We do not live in a post-racial, equal society. We live in a society where civil rights have stagnated. And it’s this stagnation that further exacerbates the problems of racism, stereotyping, and profiling in this country; because people – mostly white people – feel that because the civil rights movement is “over”, then everything is peachy-keen. We’re done. We live in a country where racism, sexism, classism, sexual orientationism, and every other –ism are dead. BULLSHIT.
The civil rights movement was a great step forward, but we still have incredible discrimination in the country toward racial and ethnic minorities, toward women, and especially toward gay and lesbians. Rich, old, white men have held a stranglehold on this country for the last two and half centuries; and they’ve looked out almost exclusively for rich, old, white men. It’s time for these rich, old, white men to recognize that we no longer live in a country where they’re the only people that have anything to add to society. We live in a diverse society; diversity in intelligence, language, race, culture, gender, geography, sexual orientation, etc., and this diversity is a good thing. Their pushback is a Sisyphean task, and they will always be proven to be on the wrong side of history.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I know everyone in the media is talking about it – and I think that is a good thing – but I just had to comment on this as well. The shooting death of Trayvon Martin is tragic. It isn’t just tragic because of the fact that the police have yet to arrest George Zimmerman, the known shooter. Please note that I didn’t say charge, I said arrest. I don’t know the facts, none of us do, but the fact that they haven’t even arrested this man for killing an unarmed boy is outrageous. But the fact that Mr. Zimmerman has not been arrested is more of a statement to a culture of violence, fear, vigilantism, and gun worship than anything else.
The Florida “Stand Your Ground” law essentially allows a person to attack someone (overruling previous supreme court rulings, which declared you should try to flee first) if he or she “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." This is pretty ambiguous language (deliberately), and essentially gives anyone carte blanche to murder anyone in the area, as long as they can show that they were scared for their life. It seems odd that Mr. Zimmerman, larger, older, and carrying a weapon, would be scared of a young man walking through the neighborhood, who showed absolutely no intent on hurting or killing him. Trayvon Martin was responsible for nothing more than WWB (walking while black) in a neighborhood that Mr. Zimmerman felt that he shouldn’t have been in. And now Trayvon Martin is dead, and George Zimmerman walks free (in a new neighborhood – he’s since moved).
After the incident, it was reported that George Zimmerman was the “neighborhood watch captain”. This was a volunteer position, for which no official selections or elections were held – so basically the guy took it upon himself to be the “captain”. The guy is a vigilante. And why was the made possible. Because we now live in a society based upon fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of illegal immigrants, and fear of a young black man walking in a gated community. We’re told that we should be scared of these things. And Florida tells you that you not only should be afraid of them, but if you feel threatened by them, you have the right to act upon your suspicions and kill them.
Gun obsession and violence in this country is out of control (well highlighted by Michael Moore’s film, Bowling for Columbine). People keep guns in their homes, their cars, the desks at work, behind the bar, behind the counter at work, on their person, and anywhere else you can think of. Why do we have all of these guns all around us? Are we in constant danger of being killed? Reality and statistics will tell us no; violent crime has actually been steadily declining in this country for the past 40 years.
So why do we have so many guns floating around, and why are we so scared? There are several reasons why, but the most potent reasons are that the NRA wants to promote gun ownership (regardless of the consequences or type of gun), the companies that manufacture guns want to sell more guns, and the media wants something to sensationalize. It is time to ban handguns in this country. Handguns are made to kill people, and that is exactly what they’re doing. People are not only being empowered, but being encouraged to use them. “Taking back the streets” does not mean killing everyone. It means building a real community, so that neighbors know one another and watch out for one another, not kill one another. Let’s hope that the senseless death of Trayvon Martin will at least start a dialogue about the culture of fear and the stupidity of laws such as Florida’s (and several other states’) “Stand Your Ground”.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


While watching This Week yesterday, Rick Santorum was on the show and discussing Afghanistan. First of all, I must say that I think always interesting when people who know absolutely nothing about foreign affairs get into a discussion about them. I don’t think Rick Santorum is stupid, but I do think he is less than educated about foreign affairs; and therefore, to question the president who has as much information as anyone can, is ridiculous. Does that mean the president is always right? No, of course not. But to question the president’s understand, when he’s looking at all of the facts, and you’re not, is silly.

However, that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Sorry, another tangent. I watched John McCain on Meet the Press, as well, and I have to say that John McCain has returned to the old John McCain that Democrats actually respected as a pragmatist. It’s too bad that his image is so tarnished with many Republicans and Democrats because of his presidential campaign. McCain made a hard right turn during his presidential run, with remnants of his views hanging around during the first year or so of the new Obama administration. And while I disagree with him on several issues, I’m starting to have respect for the man again as a politician that can rise above politics, and act in a rational and pragmatic way.

Alright, back to the lecture at hand.

During Santorum’s incomprehensible rant about Obama’s handling of the Afghanistan War, he made the comment that it was difficult because we were fighting against a “guerrilla insurgent force”. I think it’s ironic that someone trying to become a the leader of a nation that is an occupying force in another nation has the gall to call people that are fighting for their freedom and independence a “guerilla insurgent force”. I would say the United States is the insurgent force. And while the Taliban doesn’t seem to be a great alternative, and certainly the United States as a global power is trying to limit the influence and growth of international terrorism, Afghanistan is not our country. If Afghanistan doesn’t want us there, and they don’t want to move toward the type of government that we want them to be (puppet Democracy), then I say we let them go the way they want to go.
In the 10+ years we’ve been in Afghanistan, it doesn’t seem like we’ve made much progress. This is in no way to disparage “the troops”, because I would say the failure is due much more to planning, strategy, and politics, not due to the failure of our soldiers. It’s time to let history take over, and what happens in Afghanistan happens in Afghanistan. I know this may be harsh to say, because we went in and caused a problem, but the Afghans have been having problems for decades, and it doesn’t seem like anything we do – positive or negative – tends to have a lasting affect. People are going to get killed once we leave, but WE are responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians anyway. We should focus on humanitarian efforts, and completely pull out militarily.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rain, Rain, Rain...

Go away.

Maybe I haven't lived in Portland love enough, but I grew up in the Northwest, so you would think it wouldn't be a big deal. But even with the mild Winter that we had this year, I still can't help but have that feeling when going to work day after day in the drizzly gray weather that seems to have enveloped this city for the last month.
I don't inherently mind the rain. In fact, I enjoy being out in the rain from time to time. It cleans things off, it cools things down in the summer, it brings out the beautiful green that surrounds the city (once it's abated).
But I guess with even a mild Winter in Portland (which basically means that it didn't rain too much, and the temperature never got too cold), we still have day after day of overcast weather, and the sun only makes a peak a handful of days month after month. So then, when we're finally ready for Spring to begin, what do we get instead of sunshine, the fucking dark rainy skies. And I'm tired of it. I want Spring.
I have friends who have long had S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder), and thankfully I do not suffer from this, because they basically go into a social coma every year between October and May. But at the same time, there's only so much shitty weather you can stand. Look, we get it, you're a wet city, in a wet half of the state, in a wet region of the country. But for god's sake, we need the sunshine just like everyone else in the world. Vitamin D deficiency is nearly universal in this part of the country, which has real affects on the body. All we want is a little sunshine and the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful natural scenery that surrounds this beautiful city. Give us some peace.

We need sunshine.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The United [Countries]...

Our country is divided. We're divided politically, religiously, geographically, racially, ethnically, culturally, spatially, and every other -lly that you can think of. We're a big country (relatively), with a large population spread out over a vast expanse of land. Our climates differ dramatically depending on where you are in the country, as does the language. And yet, we try to operate this [so-called] Democracy in a way that is supposed to be pleasing to most people. IMPOSSIBLE.
Look, while I don't like to consider myself a member of a party, my ideas are much more in line with Democrats than Republicans (I go further left than Dems, so I don't really consider myself one). I'm a progressive. But I do agree with Republicans, at least from the very broadest perspective, that our government is too big. I don't mean too big the way that they mean it. I think the purpose of our government - really the only purpose - should be to protect the citizens of this country, and provide laws and services to those in need. Certainly there are complicated rules and regulations that the government enforces because of interstate commerce, but Europe manages to work through that, despite the fact that they operate as several different autonomous nations.
Which brings me to my point. The united states of America (lower-cased for emphasis) aren't working. The umbrella that is our federal government is just not diverse and progressive enough to deal with the changing face of our vast country and the different regions within. The idea of 1,000 people representing nearly 400 million is absurd. Not to mention the fact that the majority of the members of congress are old white men, who are so out of touch with what is going on across this country that it's laughable to say they represent us at all. They're from a country where old white men rule, and they want to keep it that way. The uprising of women and minorities in this country is foreign to them, as are new ideas about relationships and protection of privacy and individual rights. They don't represent us anymore, and it's time we recognize that fact and move on.
Move on to breaking this country up into different countries. I'm not sure exactly how we should break it up, but whatever makes the most sense to the people in the regions, I suppose. If people in Oklahoma want God to rule their schools, their government, and their lives, who am I to say that they cannot. Call this a new Declaration of Independence. I don't agree with God controlling every of my life. But if people in an area want that, should our federal government really stop them? According to the constitution, yes. But if you think about it, the constitution doesn't really make that much sense anymore either. It was created when the population was small, and controlled by a homogenous white male population who thought that they were the only people that mattered in the country. Rights were not given to women and minorities, because the framers of the constitution didn't even think of them as citizens; they were just sort of...there.
It's time to face up to reality. Our country isn't getting any better. It's been getting worse for a while now, but we blindly hope that eventually it will move toward progression (...the arc of the universe...). But what has proven this. The election of a black man as president? We've seen the reaction to that election, and the thinly veiled vitriol spewed at this man in the name of "politics", but really in the name of racial discrimination. His election was a major move forward for progressives, but I think the reaction reveals more than the election did. Our country is being held back by strong forces of generational disagreement, and just a general different in perspectives on the world. I don't think money is the most important thing in the world, and our current governmental, social, and economic systems are built upon this fact. People are irrelevant in modern American society. Well I say FUCK modern American society, we don't need it anymore.
Let's break up these broken united states, and create individual, autonomous regional countries, whose governments more accurately reflect the zeitgeist of a particular area, and can govern more flexibly and smoothly. It's time. It's been time. We're fooling ourselves if we really believe that things are going to get better. Moderates in congress are fleeing like rats from a sinking ship. The age of moderation, compromise, and cooperation are over. The halls of congress are now a battlefield, and neither side is winning or will win, but the tragedy is that the stalemate isn't only affecting the soldiers, it's affecting us all.