Monday, January 10, 2011

Today I Write to Piss Someone Off

Today I write because the compulsion is simply too great not to.

The horrible tragedy that befell our nation Saturday simply cannot be ignored. In a 24 hour news cycle of non-troversies and banal political banter, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and the murder of 6 innocent bystanders is simply too horrific to let pass by, regardless of your political involvement or affiliation.

The question one has to ask in a situation like this is: why? Why did that young girl, recently elected to the student council, or those two 70 year-old churchgoing women have to lose their lives? What purpose did the gunman serve and why must six perfectly innocent people fall?

As for the deaths of the innocent victims, I'm afraid the only answer is that we live in a world full of imperfection. No one can truly say that their death was for some cosmic reason. Unfortunately, we live in a world where tragedy, suffering, and devastation can, and do, occur.

As for the gunman, Jared L. Loughner, and his purpose, we know a handful of things. First of all, the individual was mentally unstable (see the previous link). The question then becomes, why did he target Rep. Giffords? Aside from his rambling and incoherent political writings on government control and brainwashing, rumors are now circulating that his unhappiness with an answer to a forum question a few years ago lead him to loosely target the representative.

However, is one forum question enough to spark a tragedy like this? One cannot ignore the nature of our political rhetoric in these times; the vitriol, the hate, the violence, and the fear-mongering are simply so great that they've lead even rational individuals to see our government and our society in ways that were previously regarded as ramblings of the fringe. In an environment like this, with Tea Party Republicans and even some mainstream Republicans resorting to the most base of political tactics in order to win election, is it so far-fetched to believe that an individual like Loughner could be driven to violence if listening to and believing the rhetoric of a handful of over-the-top political pundits?

The answer historically is no. The murder of George Tiller, an abortion doctor in Kansas, revealed that Bill O'Reilly had targeted the doctor no less than 29 times since 2005. On a topic as contentious as abortion with such a robust history of violence, was O'Reilly directly responsible for the doctor's death? Certainly not. However, by keeping the figure in the public eye and combining that exposure with violent and hateful rhetoric, the pundit certainly did nothing to quell this sort of violence.

The attempted shooting at an Oakland Tides Foundation is another example, in which a shooter, in this case an avid listener of Glenn Beck, took his cues from the talk show host and acted on that language. Does Glenn Beck deserve credit for the shooting? Certainly not. However, the misrepresentation of the organization, hateful rhetoric, violent suggestions, to a wide viewership were certainly no hindrance to the violence on that day.

Returning to Loughner, the context of violence is also present. A Sarah Palin PAC pamphlet targeting Rep. Giffords with crosshairs and a Jesse Kelly campaign event in which attendees could shoot an M16 to "Get on Target" and "Remove Gabrielle Giffords" created a context of violence that, when provided for mentally disturbed individuals, certainly did nothing to prevent what happened this past Saturday.

Conservatives have scrambled to remove themselves from this discussion, but one cannot ignore the "2nd amendment solutions" and anti-government tilt of this past election season on the part of the Right. In an interview on Face the Nation, Senator John Kyl glossed briefly over the tragedy and then launched into a discussion of how we cannot rush to blame Republicans for the violence. I think they doth protest too much.

At the end of the day, the fact remains that while Republicans are not directly responsible for what occurred in Tuscon, it is simply irresponsible to throw around such revolutionary rhetoric when individuals like Jared Loughner are willing to take them to their logical conclusion. The beauty of this country lies in debate; we share our views and contest them without damage to each other or ourselves. That beauty is marred when a context of violence drives individuals to silence those they disagree with.

Embedding was disabled, however Bob Schieffer sums it up best in this Face the Nation monologue.

As someone with a public forum on which to post, I hope this post has rattled someone. I hope that my writings have shaken the discussion. Because frankly, without creating a conflict, how can we hope to discuss what can make our country a better place?

For Giffords, I write today to piss someone off as a demonstration of what makes our country great: moderated, intelligent, discussion.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Be a Lame Duck

It's been a short time since my last post and frankly, it has not been unintentional.

This particular post is not about some great social injustice, some administrative hooplah, some corporate scandal, or some spiritual awakening. It's about being a lame duck.

The coming legislative session is sure to be rife with, well nothing. Much will happen in the news in the way of punditry, commentary, empty threats, and faux ultimatums as the Republicans take their new seats and Democrats check theirs for mousetraps. However, at the end of the day, most of these recently ousted men and women will do what most of us do when we know of our impending termination: nothing.

The question is, what do we do? Politics is a daily event, an unavoidable component of our lives. While the collective legislative mechanism of our country sits on its ass and politiks about nothing in particular, how are we affected?

Well, from my perspective, the lame duck session is an important one. We now have the opportunity to do what we please, recharge, collect our thoughts and prepare for the ensuing fight. What's sure to follow the lame duck session is a tidal wave of distracting fights, frivolous arguments, and misdirection from the issues that really affect our world. It will be tense, it will be constant, and it will be taxing.

So I'm not telling you to sit out. I'm barely telling you to sit down. But instead, stand up, hit the books, relax and catch your breath, but remain on your toes. If you care about anything, know that any fight is worth the work, so do the work while your plate is empty.

Be a lame duck, just this once.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

In the Wake of a Shellacking

A "shellacking" is what President Obama decided to call it.

He may have been right.

As the economy continues to creep along without jobs, social issues like gay marriage and immigration continue to remain unsolved, and reasonable American concerns remain unanswered, the "informed citizenry" decided to vote for the party of no; the party that has obstructed the conversation for two years, the party that puts petty holds on trivial nominees, the party that refuses to acknowledge the need for conversation and compromise in a discussion that needs resolution before our country can move forward.

Next thing you know we'll be drinking Brawndo. It does have what plants crave after all.

What makes the situation even more maddening is the complete ignorance of the intentional plutocracy that allowed these road cones (John Boehner) and turtles (Mitch McConnell) to assume the mantle of power (which they do not see as a call to action, but instead as a mandate for uncompromising partisanship). The Reagan era theory of trickle down economics, the Bush era doctrine of deregulation, and the myth of the unmoderated free market have exploded the social division in this country, demolishing the middle class and (coupled with key Supreme Court decisions) organized political power firmly in the hands of the elite.

The bottom line is this: on a day when Americans had the opportunity to vote against partisan gridlock, ideological tomfoolery, and money fueled campaigns dictated by those who would sooner milk us for our paycheck than give our children a good education, Americans voted against their own best interest.

The Democrats may have lost the seats, but it was the American people who received the "shellacking".

Moving forward, we have a lot of work to do. Here in Iowa, Governor Branstad and the newly politicized judiciary will be pushing a reversal of the decision that allowed gay marriage to become a reality (they have a long road ahead, but the intention is clear). In Washington, Boehner and McConnell have made no qualms about their intention to steamroll as many time-wasting hearings and inquisitions as possible through the legislature. Regardless of how Democrats and even moderate Conservatives feel, GOP leadership now sees the Tea Party anger as their guiding compass.

The patients run the asylum today, but we cannot give up hope. With a simple majority in the Senate and a competent, reasonable president in the White House, life will continue. Let's just hope the Democrats have learned their lessons: progress does not speak for itself, even good ideas can be spun as bad ones, and the American people are as impressionable as the elite believe them to be.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try and keep progress un-shellacked.

Fight on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stand and Be Heard

"When we amplify everything we hear nothing."

Jon Stewart is a smart man.

This message came from the lips of one of the most underestimated political commenters of our time. In a few words, Stewart offered the most concise diagnosis of our political discourse to date. We live in an age of muted conversation, confounding roadblocks, and stifled progress born of a discussion overwhelmed by the volume of a minority of participants.

Today, however, I'd like to take this discussion one step further. The overwhelming din isn't simply a problem endemic of election season or even caused by the Tea Party. Frankly at this point progressives are joining in the chorus, adding their own tune to the disharmony. Yelling, anger, and the unwillingness to compromise, even for the sake of progress, are symptoms of something deeper than television commercials.

At this point I am certainly primed for a rant, aren't I? I could launch into a discussion about corporate spending. I could raise hell about "beltway politics". Frankly, I could even concoct some kind of "state sponsored drug war/chemtrail" scandal that would magically assume the appropriate piece to my puzzle.

However, these stories feel more like cop-outs than explanations. The truth is, most societal problems are the conglomeration of bad behavior sparked by some flaw in human psychology that reaches critical mass due to enabling sociopolitical and economic circumstances.

So the question then becomes, what mental disease, born of our American environment has so crippled our national immune system as to prevent us from even voting in our own best interest? The answer: purity.

Deliberation is dirtied by the purification of contending ideologies. The unwillingness to even consider that your opponent may possess a grain of truth (especially in politics) prevents the bridging of gaps of any kind.

This purity, born of anger and confusion, fear and frustration, has poisoned the conversation entirely, preventing us from tackling even our most basic problems. The Tea Party is the epitome of polictical zealotry, and even  some Progressives hint a move in a similar direciton, thinking it the most effective counterattack to the madness.

I assure you, it is not.

So now we know the problem. Discussing it any further risks running the issue straight into the ground. What people really want are action. But what action is best?

Well friends, despite the smothering wave of attack ads and phone calls, the very season that accentuates our condition presents an opportunity, nay, the opportunity for its cure. You see, voting is the very essence of our fight. Pens replace swords, voices replace violence, and at this time we can be united in a single purpose, fighting not against each other, but against our common demons.

Question your vote. Leave no doubt in your mind that you cast the right vote when you leave your polling place. Will you vote for purity? Will you further the stalemate of contending zealots? Or will you consider pragmatism, the reasonable conglomeration of humble ideas, as your candidate?

Vote not A vs. B, but instead vote C. Vote for progress. Understand what progress means and demand it of the most qualified candidate. Ignore the rhetoric and consider your future, your circumstances, your dreams, and your country. Ultimately, do not perpetuate the stalemate, but instead liberate yourself from it.

Vote and take charge. And when you enter that polling place, consider just once that despite your colors, we all believe in the same thing: progress.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Welcome Back to the Politik

Politics is a fickle beast. One minute it has you reveling in the possibilities of collective human action, then next it has you furious at its capability for corruption. The beltway can burn mainstreet as the mainstream media trumpets the charge while half-way across the country a group gathers in a garage and founds an organization that changes the very landscape of our discussion.

Needless to say, with such ups and downs, it becomes difficult at times to stay in the fight. Even as a spectator, I find myself occasionally needing a break from the head-spin. However, I, and our conversation, are back.

It's been a long sabatical, but it hasn't been without toil. One cannot simply unplug from the Tea Party, the debate blunders, the hidden and not-so-hidden racism of mainstream white fear, the rise and fall of Democratic hopes, the constant mistrust, misunderstanding, and mystery of our enigmatic president, and the ever tilting Earth on which we stand. Thanks to a constant ear to the ground and one eye prised firmly open at the 24 hour news cycle, I have gleaned, and gleaned, and gleaned.

What have we learned over the past however-long-its-been? We've learned that money can indeed bring "grassroots" organizations to the polls. We've learned that Democrats do in fact learn their lessons. We've learned that NPR, much like the Progressive ideology, is equally susceptible to the ignorant vilification of a movement clinging to life. And, most importantly, we've learned that Christine O'Donnell has never actually read the Constitution.

This year has revealed the character of our country and our politics and if one could write a thesis describing the findings it would be this: we need serious work. Our opinions are exposed to the winds of change and our values maleable if not thoughtfully defined. Evidence is a nebulous concept in a world of FOX news special reports and our sensibilities are equally as nebulous when fear is our compass.

Ultimately, it is because of this very thesis that, despite nearly nixing this blog on three seperate occasions due to perceived low readership and a personal insecurity in my ability to preserve it, I feel as though this is not my project to abandon. The symphony of our Democracy requires not one conductor, but many skilled instrumentalists guided by their passion for beauty and enlightenment. Should one instrument be silenced, the entire ensemble suffers. Should our goal fade in importance, the beauty of our music is cheapened.

So, without further ado, it is with great enthusiasm that I invite you to gather your art, be it conversation, speaking, thinking, writing, doing, or leading, and raise it to your lips with me. We have a lot of work to do, but together, we too can will our melody above the din of hate and suffering, and brighten the lives of our fellow man.

Welcome back to the politik.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Life is Obnoxiously Unpredictable.

Good evening everybody (or at least those of you who still check the blog after an extended period of no updates)!

Alright, here's the news. I got a job! That's right, after completing my minor in unemployment I am back to work making sandwiches for the good customers of Panera. It isn't glorious, but it is money.

With that in mind, things have gotten a little chaotic. I'm hoping that in the ensuing weeks things will start to slow down (or at least develop into a routine) and I'll be back to read the news and post more. In the mean time however, I'd like to take the opportunity to talk to you guys.

My question is simple: what do you want to see on the blog? I tend to comment on trending topics (and I've missed several good ones in the past couple weeks) but I'm wondering what's important to you? What issues would you prefer to see? Would you rather see links to posts from other sites or unique editorial from myself?

Like I said when I formed the site and invited all of you, this place is yours. That's why it's called "The Polis". Let me know what it is you want to see in your community and I guarantee we can make this place a daily oasis of thought and conversation.

So! Leave your suggestions, interests, dreams in the comments section while you're here and let's keep this train rolling!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Good News on a Friday (An Ascent From Pundit Purgatory)

It's been sneaking in again. That crushing feeling of helplessness that accompanies spending several hours a day on news blogs and political commentary sites. If you listen to the Right, we're going to hell in a handbasket. If you listen to the Left, Obama is a do-nothing, accomplish-nothing corporate puppet.

Needless to say, when no one's happy and it's sometimes difficult to disagree with the enthusiastic logic of some of those on the left, reality becomes a bit nebulous. For example, I've found myself wondering why Obama hasn't already fixed illegal immigration, gay marriage, special interest influence in politics, and solved world hunger in his first two years as president. I've wondered how the man I voted for could so quickly bow to Republicans in order to shoe-horn a half-complete health insurance reform bill through. I've wondered why he hasn't railroaded climate legislation through with his Congressional super-majority.

I'll stop there. You can see where this is headed.

The Ascent

I've been frustrated that none of the pragmatic policies I once believed in have resonated with the public and therefore compromises have been made and progress has been slow. According to those news blogs I mentioned, America hates Obama, all demographics have gone off their rocker into one fringe corner of the political spectrum or the other, crippling progressive legislation in the process.

Then I spent some time on the Huffington Post.

If one take's the country's political temperature there, then one finds many people still support the Obama administration, regularly recognizing the mountain of achievements he's already piled up. What resonated with me most of all though was the temperate, intelligent expectations these same people have regarding the slow progress of progressive legislation and the necessarily slow undoing of the political culture in Washington.

And The Good News

Shortly after rediscovering this message (which I recognized as my own more rational stance before it was blown about by the wild winds of internet political blogging), and consequently rediscovering my optimism, I also happened upon this information:

It's a study by a group called the Campaign for America's Future and it possesses some rather telling facts about the state of the midterm electorate. Some highlights include:
"68 percent said they would oppose making major spending cuts in Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit, while 28 percent said they would favor cutting those programs. That included 61 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents.
"Strong majorities also oppose common conservative proposals for addressing the budget deficit: 65 percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 70; 65 percent oppose replacing Medicare with a private sector voucher; 62 percent oppose a 3 percent federal sales tax; 60 percent oppose raising the Medicare age from 65 to 67.
"60 percent of those surveyed responded positively to an economic message that said that “we have a budget deficit, but … we also have a massive public investment deficit” that requires us to “rebuild the infrastructure that is vital to our economy” and to the economic growth that will “generate revenues to help pay down the budget deficit.” This message tests better than any other progressive message on investment as well as more conservative messages focused on spending cuts."
In summary, this study too finds that the American public is not as irrational as the media and GOP would have us believe. A resounding majority understands that cuts to social programs in order to trim the deficit are undesirable and that public investment should be a priority before deficit reduction, therefore heading off the "strangle the beast" tactic of the Right before it finds a foothold. In other words, the Democratic message of public investment, continued support of social services, and a long-term strategy of economic development bolstered by short-term deficits is quite popular with likely voters.

Going Forward

The truth remains that Democrats will likely lose seats in the coming midterms, but I personally find peace with this now. After discovering that not only is the American public not as crazy as advertised but that the Democratic message is still a popular one, I can confidently remove my hands from my eyes knowing that progress isn't as unlikely as perceived. 

The moral of this story, if any, is that you should form your opinions for yourself. Use facts, but be sure to identify what information from what sources qualify as facts. Obama approval ratings by Rasmussen are not facts, CBO estimates are. Huffington Post editorials are not facts, and neither is anything Fox News puts on the air.

Finally, shut off the computer and walk away for a while. Perspective is a powerful thing and so is optimism. If one begets the other, then it's easy to see how a trip down the political rabbit hole can stifle both simultaneously.

Have a good Friday folks. I certainly will.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Globalization and the GOP's "Response"

Glenn Beck, John Boehnert, Mitch McConnell, Bill O'Reilly, Texas, Tennessee, and the Teabaggers are arguably some of the most influential entities in the Republican party as they gear up for the coming midterm elections. They tout the same message: limited government, less taxes, privatized social services, and a decreased deficit. However, one message rises above all the others in terms of its repetitive, frequently out of context, boiler plate usage: “states’ rights”.

But why this message now?

Conservatives, by definition, are champions of the status quo, yet one can hardly argue that states have had reign over political decisions in the past few years. The largest expansion of the Federal government in history came under George W. Bush after all.

Furthermore, simply making themselves the anti-Obama (and inherently anti-liberal government) party doesn’t seem like a marketable platform to me. Despite the obvious benefit of the message for conservatives, the “states’ rights” message still has to resonate with the Republican demographic in order to gain any traction (even in the face of a massive media manipulation).

Liberal/Progressive misgivings to their policies help clarify the picture. The most poignant complaints are that Republican policies ignore the little guy, take advantage of the defenseless, ignore the collective well-being of society for the betterment of a few privileged nobles, and impose niche "morality" and religion on all people without exception. What it boils down to is this: “states’ rights”, limited government, less taxes, and privatized social services all point in one obvious direction.

Leave me alone.

So the question is where does this come from? What external force evinces this fingers-in-ears reaction that so pervades the GOP these days? Furthermore, what is the basis of liberal/progressive concerns with conservative policies?

If we read between the lines, the answer becomes clear. The Internet has allowed ideas to cross borders, forums have allowed the masses to critique these ideas, pushing some to the fringe and others to the forefront, and 24 hour news networks and blogs have shed light on atrocities previously unseen and unnoticed by the public. In addition, the globalization of business has raised the question: what are the borders of esoteric, religiously defined morality? Where do religious mandates end and legal protections begin?

The shuffle is as prominent as it is pervasive. Old ideas, once hidden in the shadows, are being thrust onto the examination table: racism, working conditions, religion, environmentalism, welfare, and the boundaries of responsibility are no longer confined to geographic borders, but are instead being redefined as we analyze them as a global community. Old, hackneyed ideas are under duress as European multiculturalism and social responsibility rise above the fray.

In other words, the Right’s southern, racist fringe, aloof elite, religiously petulant, and overall ignorant carefree are falling, kicking and screaming, in the face of redefined global standards for humanity. In response, the Left's, more compassionate, more collective, and more human concept of the state gains traction with Liberal/Progressive voters.

So, in fact, nothing has changed about the Conservative movement. They’re still vehemently defending the status quo. The problem, for them at least, is that the status quo no longer defends them. States’ rights, as it turns out, is the only possible Conservative message.

So the obvious question then is what happens next? Can a party, fighting against the forces of globalization of business and culture possibly survive? How long before the Republican party is forced to morph into a Progressive party with alternative solutions to our country’s obvious issues? When will the old guard die enough to allow the greater majority of the Republican party to make their own decisions? come to their senses? Stop obstructing the inevitable?

I'll be in Germany when it does.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Beautiful (If Fleeting) Decision

I would be remiss if I did not blog after last night's California court ruling on the infamous Proposition 8.

For those of you not aware of Prop 8, as it is more commonly called, here is a little history: Prop 8 was an amendment to the California constitution banning gay marriage. From what I understand, this measure was largely a reaction to a previous act that allowed gays the right to marry in the state. The lead up to the vote was marred by controversy and the measure ultimately won out, garnering 52% of the vote.

What this amounts to is that a majority of citizens were able to take rights away from a minority. If that sounds bad, that's because one of the pillars of this country is protection for the minority from persecution by the majority; an especially important consideration in a system where decisions are made by majority vote. Needless to say, this was seen as discriminatory and a handful of gay couples (who had been married under the previous act) took the measure to court.

The court case was heated and featured star lawyers, including Theodore Olson, a conservative and former US solicitor general, and David Boies, who represented Al Gore during the infamous 2000 election dispute. Both sides argued their cases and, yesterday evening, George H.W. Bush installed Chief Justice Vaughn R. Walker found Prop 8 unconstitutional on the grounds that it, "unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates and irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation." (source)

This is an important victory for LGBT marriage, especially in a state with a prominent LGBT community. Frankly I am floored that the decision came through the way it did. Congratulations brothers and sisters, may this add fuel to our fire as we strive for the equality you so justly deserve.

Additional insight and analysis below:
As with most political victories, this is more of a call-to-arms than a cathartic signal to lay them down, but there's nothing wrong with basking in the afterglow for a few beautiful moments.


P.S. I hope everyone likes the new layout! I felt that the old-new setup didn't exactly capture the spirit of the blog. I think the new layout is both easier to digest and more representative of the intellectual nature of our dialogue.

Friday, July 30, 2010

In the Name of Pure Nepotism

Good (late) evening everybody!

I'm proud to announce the newest addition to the "Just for Funsies" section of the links: "All Hopped Up", a fantastic beer blog manned by my close friend Brian Fox.

Brian's newest project is sincerely top-notch, with topics ranging from tastings to gear to brewing. His recent attempts at beer ice cream in particular have left me wondering if, perhaps, like the far reaches of outer space, sugary concoctions based on malted grain beverages will ever be reachable. Needless to say, whenever I need a break from the rough-and-tumble of politics, AHU is a great escape. If you too enjoy beer as much as I do, feel free to take a look (frankly we could both probably use the site traffic...)

In addition, I'm a guest blogger! That's right, despite Brian's actually having read my writing, he decided to invite me to author some pieces on home brewing. My intro to homebrew was up this week and, should it lead to violent hate mail and death threats, don't say I didn't tell you so Brian.

Happy hunting everybody.