Category Archives: Politics

Why Are We So Divisive?

Our political system is seriously messed up on both sides. We are intensely polarized and have lost the art of compromise; a skill that is critical to political success. We snipe at each other from our entrenched positions and refuse to give quarter or budge an inch. It is ridiculous.

We need to be able to speak respectfully with each other over issues we disagree on. We need to be able to consider each other’s opinions and be flexible. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t have all the answers to every problem no matter how smart I may think I am and I have changed my opinion drastically in the past based upon thoughtful reasoned debate with people I disagree with. None of us knows it all and none of us should trust that anyone else does either.

My wife and I are liberal democrats who believe in much (but not all) of the “liberal agenda”. We believe in social services, universal healthcare, and taking care of those around us in need. We have two very close friends that we care about who are conservative republicans who believe in self empowerment, personal responsibility, small government and much of the “conservative agenda”. We are opposite on the political spectrum but we are also quite a bit alike as people.

If you listen to the public discourse, you’d demonize your opponent. My wife and I should, by all rights, look at our friends as horrible people who have no heart, who don’t care about people less fortunate than themselves and who want to eat babies. In return, they should look at us as just a couple of hippies with no sense of responsibility, a couple who thinks the government should run every facet of our lives and who sacrifices babies to some pagan god.

The reality of it is that our friends are two of the kindest people I’ve ever met. The husband, especially so. He’s a retired detective. She still works in social services. He has spent his life protecting people and she spends her career making sure the less fortunate have a safety net.

He cares deeply about people and when someone needs something he’s the first one there to do it. He takes care of people who are sick, he brings food to friends and he is bothered deeply when he sees injustice. God forbid you ever abuse an animal in his presence.

She is a fiercely independent woman who feeds hungry people, buys gifts on a whim and is her sister’s biggest cheerleader and fan. She hurts when people around her are in pain and would give you her last nickel if you truly needed it. God forbid you ever abuse any truly needy person in her presence.

I can draw similar parallels with my wife and I, who also defy our entrenched political labels. I hate government snooping and interference. My wife and I are both devout Christians who believe in salvation and try our best to live a morally “good” life. We believe there are always consequences to our actions and that we have to be personally responsible for them. None of us are neatly understandable people who fit into pigeonholes.

If you look closely at our friends, you can see how their beliefs color the way they live. They believe that if someone needs help, you don’t turn to the government but instead roll up your own sleeves and go help them. They walk the walk and do this themselves, helping those around them. My wife and I believe that there aren’t enough people in the world like our friends who will truly help others and there should be a public safety net to help those people because in general, most people suck and won’t help.

Are we wrong? Are we right? No more or no less than our friends and we both have valid opinions and viewpoints. Demonizing the other side simply because we have different motivations and viewpoints would be stupid. Unfortunately, the way our current public discourse is going that’s what most people do. Instead of taking the time to disagree respectfully and truly listen to each other we try to distill everything down to little soundbites and memes and lob them at each other like bombs. We try to “score” points off each other like we can “win” which is, in a word, stupid.

Well, I’m going to take a page from our friends’ playbook on this issue. I see something that needs to be done and I’m going to roll up my sleeves and do it myself. I’m going to change one small thing that I do and see if I can use it as a catalyst to change the people around me as well. It may seem small and simple, but I believe it’s the first step in changing how people interact with each other and once we change that, we can start closing the gap.

One of the popular things to do on social media is to capture some complex issue as a small picture and “soundbite” and post it as a barb to the other side. We all have seen it and I’d venture to say we all do it as well. I know I certainly do. I did it just yesterday, as a matter of fact. This morning it struck me as ridiculous; how can I truly distill a complex person like my friend who happens to have a different opinion than I do politically down to a single stupid image and short series of words? I probably couldn’t explain who he is to someone who doesn’t know him in a million words, let alone a picture and short sentence. Do I want to “score” some sort of points off him? Hell no, I don’t. He’s someone I like and respect so why would I want to do that? Knowing him, I can’t possibly imagine he wants to “score” points off me either, he’s a much kinder and more thoughtful person than that.

The reality is that most people are just like we are. Most people are more thoughtful and reasoned than we truly give them credit for and to demonize a stranger is just as stupid and unproductive as demonizing friends. To that end, I’m going to stop posting those stupid memes and images and stop trying to “score” points off the other side with them. That doesn’t mean I won’t still have opinions and share them, but I will do my best to try and share them in a thoughtful fashion that invites discourse instead. I will attempt to avoid disparaging those who disagree with me and instead try to create an atmosphere of thoughtful discussion. I don’t pretend that I will always succeed but I will definitely try.

I will do my small part to bring people together and encourage thoughtful compromise instead of encouraging polarization. Who’s with me? Can we do this together? Are you in it with me?

The Two Party System

I did something drastic this week. For the first time in my voting life, I am no longer a registered Republican. That’s right, I joined the big D when I updated my voter registration at the DMV. I have to admit, it feels weird to no longer be a “card carrying Republican” after being one since I was 18.

Times change, though, and people tend to change with them. The grand old party, the party of Ronald Reagan, can no longer adequately represent my interests. Of course, I’m not terribly sure the democrats will do any better and if truth be told I really wanted to register as an independent. However, because of California’s closed primaries I would not have been able to be adequately represented in the primaries as an independent so I held my nose and checked the democrat box.

In reality, I think none of the political parties are doing an adequate job. Democrats, once the bastion of the common man, now seem to be entirely too far left and are a haven for out of touch intellectuals who prefer to talk a problem to death. The GOP, once the party of the rich conservative, has turned into a far right haven for big government, big spender types who pay only a passing nod to civil rights and who often leap before they look.

I used to firmly identify as a Republican on several key points… points that at one time were linchpins of the party platform. These points included personal responsibility, smaller government and fiscal responsibility. My viewpoints haven’t changed that much, but the party has shifted well away from these middle of the road values in some sort of attempt to capture fringe voters of every ilk. The Democrats aren’t much better, but at least I can identify a little more closely with some of the compassionate conservatives within the party even if they don’t seem to be leading the parade right now.

Maybe it’s time to rework the whole American political process. The electoral college has already proved it’s inability to adequately represent the popular vote, disenfranchising a lot of people in the process. When a candidate wins a state, they win every single electoral vote in the state without any representation for the losing side. For example, California will most assuredly award all of her electoral votes to Kerry this year, even though a statistically significant number of Republicans will be voting for Bush. Kansas will go the other way, awarding her entire suite to Bush even though there are hundreds of thousands of Democrats voting otherwise.

This ties into our two party system as well, and makes it especially difficult to elect a viable third party candidate. The best a third party candidate can realistically hope for in this day and age is to play “spoiler” to the election, siphoning enough votes from one candidate to allow the other to win. This is widely suspected to be the case in the 2000 election, with Nader siphoning just enough votes to put Bush over the top in some key battlegrounds, giving him the entire electoral basket.

Neither party, in my opinion, adequately represents the hearts and minds of real American voters. On the contrary, most people I’ve talked to either voluntarily disenfranchise themselves (by abstaining from the voting process altogether) or end up holding their nose and voting for the least repugnant candidate, sometimes casting a protest vote against a candidate instead of being able to get behind a candidate they support. This all results in a feeling of disconnection from the political process, a feeling that not only are we not represented but we are actually marginalized and ignored in the process.

No, the present system is in dire need of a complete overhaul. We need a viable multi-party system that can adequately field candidates that truly represent American wishes and ideals. We need a direct popular vote for office instead of an antiquated electoral college that sometimes puts the loser of the popular vote into office. We need politicians that remember who they work for, what they are supposed to accomplish and have a firm commitment to at least attempting to do the right thing.

Most of all, we need fresh ideas, better answers and smarter leaders. The ones we have right now just aren’t cutting it.

Patterns in the Sand

It’s an election year. Our economy is still in the toilet. We’re bleeding jobs to overseas competitors. Unemployment is still rampant. Talk is circulating that the feds might start to raise interest rates. We’re still at war. We’ve just been caught abusing people in the custody of our government. At any time, some whacko could walk through the door with a bomb and it seems like half of us are constantly expecting it and on edge. Our own government is stripping away our rights and feeding in to the general fear and paranoia. All in all, it’s a rough time to be an American.

One of the lessons I’ve learned over the last several years is that nothing lasts. All this misery will eventually pass, and we will even out to something moderately acceptable. Good times don’t last, bad times don’t last, they all eventually move towards the center. Sometimes, though, it seems like the depths of the bad times reflect the peaks of the good times; we stoop lowest when we’ve soared the highest. Maybe this is some sort of grand balancing scheme, making sure our karma evens out in the end. One of the things that I always try to do is to pay careful attention to the undercurrents of society around me. As I’ve said many times before, I am a people watcher and an observer of life in general. I am also a person that can draw together a coherent pattern out of a seemingly unconnected series of events, clues or bits of information. This tendency has often frustrated my family when I can (at times) easily guess my Christmas or birthday presents, but it also allows me to paint a vivid picture based on nothing more than a set of feelings or vibes.

I usually can’t really put my finger on exactly what piece of information finally does it for me. I can’t usually tell you when I slip over the peak and suddenly just “know” something. It’s organic, the information sort of swirls and eddies around me, accreting slowly until suddenly there’s this gleaming pearl of understanding. I could no more explain how I do this to someone than a person could explain how they curl their tongue up. Either you can do it or you can’t, but you can’t ever really explain it. What I can tell you is that I’m starting to see the faint glimmerings of a pattern emerging from the chaos of daily life. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, I can’t quite tell you exactly what it will end up being, but I can tell you that some order and regularity is poised to emerge. I get the general feeling that this order, this regularity, is a good thing. I feel like we’re about due for an evening out of the scales and the pendulum is making its way back to center. Lord knows we’re long overdue for it, and I’m hoping I’m seeing a true pattern emerging instead of just imposing my own wishes on a chaotic and depressing period of life.

Many things lead me to believe that what I’m seeing is real, that what I’m experiencing isn’t just imaginings and wishes. I see patterns in the way people talk to other people. I hear snippets of their conversations, see and feel the things they are concerned about, and get a little bit of insight into the concerns of their daily lives. I see patterns in the economy, in the seemingly random and unconnected bits of financial news that I glean from the newspapers every day. The job market is still sluggish, but it finally seems to have hit bottom and started working its way back up. People are caring more about world situations than seems normal for the last few years, they are paying a little less attention to their own personal misfortunes and focusing a little more energy on the inequities that exist on the world stage.

More and more people are asking pointed questions; they want to know they “why” behind situations instead of being quite so content to just go along with things. The American public is slow to rouse, slow to anger, and quick to forget but once they get lumbering in a certain direction they usually manage to change things. The trick lies in seeing which way they are heading and either running around in front to wave the baton or just simply in getting the hell out of their way.

It’s very fashionable now to prophesy doom and gloom; to loudly proclaim how our world is going straight to hell in a handbasket. I used to yell right alongside the doomsayers but I’m beginning to quiet down just a little. I’m beginning to hope just a little. I’m beginning to believe, just a little. I hope I’m not wrong.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Proof

The formal commission investigating the 9/11 tragedy has publicly stated they have found no link between Iraq, Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden and Al-Qaida. I never believed this link existed in the first place, and have gotten into far too many coffee shop arguments over it. Bush, however, has decried the findings of the panel and continues to assert this mysterious link. His reasoning for this is simple, yet strangely Orwellian. He asserts that the findings are wrong, there is a link because there is a link. He is blithely unencumbered with any need for facts, evidence or proof. The world according to Dubya is simple and straightforward. Too bad he lives in Bizarro world.

Now, I’m not sure if George had any logic classes while he was getting his Ivy League education. If he did, I think it’s probably pretty obvious that he didn’t absorb what they were trying to teach him. In my world, at least, you are required to prove your statements and if this link did, in fact exist, I would think Dubya would have been on the ball and up front in providing it as fast as he could. Instead, he prevaricated, he stonewalled the commission, he refused to supply information and documents when requested, and if by example if not in direct action he encouraged his cabinet to do the same.

Supporters of loathsome legislation such as the Patriot Act like to tell us “if you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t be worried” whenever we bring up concerns. This sort of reasoning is scary, dangerous, and easily turned on it’s head to be pointed right back at the people who are so fond of using it. In this case, if Bush had nothing to hide vis a vis the 9/11 disasters and the alleged Hussein/Bin Laden link you’d think he’d whip out all his proof and do everything he could to assist. If he did have something to hide, however, you’d expect him to stonewall, bluff, lie and put off investigators with technicalities and loopholes. Which behavior has he actually done? Hmmm….

I still maintain that the primary reason Bush went into Iraq to get Hussein was to get back at the man for thumbing his nose at his father. None of his publicly stated motives have stood up to close examination; no weapons of mass destruction have been found, no Al Qaida terror camps were rooted out, and no link between Hussein and Bin Laden has been proven. Hell, even Al Qaida has gone on record as stating this link doesn’t exist, and you’d think they would leap at the chance to thumb their nose at us and claim widespread backing and support if it existed.

Bush went in to satisfy a petty and vindictive grievance. He leapt at the chance to justify this invasion in the wake of a national disaster. He fomented hate and aggression, brainwashing gullible or naïve people all over the country into believing his propaganda. He never even finished the job he initially started in Afghanistan; Bin Laden is still at large, still at the helm of Al Qaida and I’m quite sure still plotting mischief, mayhem and destruction. If Bush had spent half as much effort rooting out Bin Laden as he did in finding and capturing Hussein this sad chapter in world history would be drawing to a close by now instead of being continually drug out.

I don’t fault the man for his initial handling of Afghanistan. It was far past time to clean up that pit of Taliban vipers, and the rest of the world agreed and backed our moves there. We went in cleanly, precisely and with clear moral superiority. We foundered, lost steam, and lost our direction rather quickly though, especially with splitting our forces between the real evil (Bin Laden) and a pain-in-the-ass despot and target of opportunity (Hussein). Yes, Hussein really did need to be called to task for his past evils and current behavior but it was neither our right nor our responsibility to do it the way we did it.

Bush is a very scary man. His actions and influences are insidious. He shrouds himself in false morality and artificial righteousness, while hiding the heart of a thug and a bully beneath a smooth and benign exterior. He has lied and manipulated situations and facts in order to fit his own worldview, conveniently discarding any truth which interferes with his own version of reality. If we continue to follow him, he will eventually lead us straight over the edge of a cliff and I for one am stopping before that fatal plummet. I hope you will too. I hope you all will help me send a resounding “You’re Fired!” his way.

The Last Respectable Man in Washington?

There’s one man in Washington today that I truly feel sorry for, and that’s Colin Powell. He’s been forced to swallow his own pride and convictions in order to be a mouthpiece for an administration that has acted counter to his advice on numerous occasions. He’s been used shamelessly for his credibility and his acceptance among the American public and it’s got to be difficult for him. Colin Powell has proven that he is, if nothing else, a team player. He’s done his best to take one for the team time after time. He is one of the most loyal people in the administration and despite his own personal convictions he has upheld his responsibilities to back the current gang of thugs in the Whitehouse.

Colin Powell is a very smart man. He has a peculiar (and unfortunately rare) combination of intelligence, congeniality, conviction and morality. He’s a man that understands honor and understands the whole concept of “face” that so many people have discarded. He wears an aura of respectability about him wherever he goes. Every time I see him on some program mincing words with yet another talking head my respect grows for him another notch. He’s obviously struggling, trying to justify some recent bit of thuggery, and trying to lend his respectability and credibility to his boss out of nothing but an old-fashioned sense of American loyalty. Bush is a lucky man in the case of Colin Powell. He’s lucky to have the man’s loyalty in a time when cabinet members are deserting in droves to write their own tell-all books, dishing the inside dirt on the inner workings of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m quite sure this was a major factor in his appointment.

I was a machinist mate when I served in the Navy (bear with me a minute, I’m actually going somewhere with this segue). My job entailed working on piping systems, valves, seawater and steam piping, pumps, turbines and other assorted bits of machinery involving the nuclear power plant as well as the secondary system. One of the things that I learned was the concept of a “sacrificial anode”, a piece of metal that we would install in various places that would corrode first. These anodes were basically chunks of zinc or other metals, bolted to various parts of the hull, seawater tanks, piping systems, etc. These metal plates would offset the natural galvanic corrosion in the system, corroding instead of the metal of the hull, tanks or piping. Once they were used up we’d throw them away and bolt in new ones, constantly consuming them to save the rest of the system. The big pieces of machinery, the piping, the tanks, and the pumps were the public face and got all the credit but in reality it was the decidedly unsexy sacrificial anodes that kept the systems from crumbling into ruin.

Colin Powell is Bush’s sacrificial anode. Bush is eating up Powell’s credibility and respectability in order to save his own reputation. As time passes, I feel like I can actually see Powell withering away, slowly being consumed by the constant abuse of his loyalty and respectability. I once used to think Powell would make a damned fine president and I would’ve been proud to vote for him but I am beginning to realize that I probably will never get the chance; Bush will consume him completely, wringing every last drop of loyalty and respect out of the man before discarding him and bolting a new anode onto his political machine. The sad thing about the situation is that the very qualities that make Powell respectable and admirable are the ones that are, in my opinion, leading to his demise. Powell cannot abandon Bush. His own personal code of ethics prevents that. His only hope is for Bush to get canned and thrown out of office before he manages to completely destroy all of his remaining credibility. The catch-22 of the situation is that Powell will probably do everything in his power in order to maintain the very situation that is leading to his own downfall and in reality he can’t act differently. Acting to subvert Bush would be completely counter to his nature, his personality and his personal code of honor.

Only we can help people like Colin Powell. Luckily we have a very powerful weapon at our disposal; we have the ballot box. If you respect and admire Colin Powell, if you worry that his honor is being sacrificed to justify the actions of a man who isn’t worth of the gifts he’s being given then I urge you to take these convictions with you into the voting booth on election day. Let your own conscience, your own sense of fair play and your own personal honor be your guide.