California initiatives: special interest slugfests and yet more bonds!

I received my ballot in the mail today. Living in California, we have vestiges of the Progressive era. These are not at all universal across the states. One is the power of recall, which we used back in 2003 with that insane election free-for-all. The other is the ballot initiative. People can vote for new laws, or to undo existing ones. In isolation, it is exciting. A small taste of direct democracy.

Two propositions this year show different issues with the state. One is Proposition 1, the end result of years of wrangling over the form a water bond act should take. It’s desperately needed in light of a record drought- California cannot reverse global climate change, so it must invest in infrastructure to mitigate its effects. But as with all major projects that end up on the ballot, it is not funded by taxation. Instead billions of dollars of bonds fund it, which will be paid off with significant interest. It’s silly to pay more than is necessary for schools, high speed rail, police, and water infrastructure, yet it is due to the nationwide allergy to taxes of any kind. I agree with the taxpayers’ associations that always pen the “against” sections of the election information packet you are sent that this is unsustainable. However, I still think the investments are needed.

There is no path to long-term economic stability in California as long as a) major initiatives are paid with loans, and b) the property tax still doesn’t factor in the massive increase in real estate prices. Every time a bond measure shows up on the ballot, it is in some ways a failure.

The second proposition that is demonstrative is Proposition 46. Ostensibly it’s about testing doctors for drugs, because otherwise they’re high as a kite and killing patients. That’s bullshit, because this is just a rehash of an ongoing battle between special interest groups, using the initiative process to get the law on their side. Looking at the fundraising game, it’s clear that this is just an old-fashioned slugfest between trial attorneys and physicians. Attorneys want more malpractice cash available, physicians don’t want to pay more in insurance. Over $50 million has been spent, mostly by physicians’ associations. Public interest isn’t factored in, this is just groups using the system as a weapon because they can’t get laws passed in their favor otherwise.

While I appreciate the chance to chime in on proposed laws, it is disconcerting to see these two issues continuing. Initiatives can do great things- in 2012 one raised taxes to fund education, another partially reformed the idiotic three-strikes law, and another closed a tax loophole (fixing something the legislature didn’t). But it can be abused, whether to kick financial obligations down to the younger generation, or as a way for special interests to promote naked self-interest.

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Paints a picture

Clock hands swing forward
matching tempo with curtains
circling aimlessly,
caught in a dance
as midnight breeze rolls through

walls, alabastrine
unblemished
it is only a matter
of time before
color or decay paints
a picture

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Whatever ill

No horde of lanterns
however well-intentioned
can shed light on
whatever ill transpires
in the depths of human souls

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What our wars create: ISIS and the persistence of terrorism

ISIS soldiers celebrate. Credit: AFP/Getty

ISIS soldiers celebrate. Credit: AFP/Getty

A conservative Facebook friend posted a story from the YoungCons website (you know it’s a great right-wing website when one of the top results is “is this site satire?”) about the battle of civilizations- America vs. Islamic fundamentalism. It suggested that the US take after Jefferson and his war against the pirates in Tripoli- use force against these Islamic powers, and don’t back down, surrender, or be held for ransom. Those three things being what the Obama administration is currently doing re: ISIS. Apparently.

Here was my reply, and a reply against the US policy in the Middle East since 9/11:

Islamic fundamentalism post-dates Jefferson. It is a creation in response to colonialism and perpetuated by Western anti-terror actions that lead to far more civilian casualties than militant ones.

We’ve been actively killing people in the Middle East for thirteen years and radical fundamentalism is stronger than ever. A secular leader in Iraq was overthrown, the armed forces disbanded, and a Sunni insurgency created by former officers let loose with their training and weapons. The strongest terror-backed entity is using American weapons to massacre civilians.

So when is America going to bomb the Islamic world into prosperity and peace? Or perhaps basic history shows that’s not the case, and we’re actually fighting a war against groups that would not exist without the weapons and instability from Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, the United States of America.

Now please note that I am not a Hussein apologist, but we need to be honest and see what the early-stage plan in Iraq was, and how in toppling one dictator we sowed the seeds for others to come.

ISIS with captured tank

ISIS with captured tank

With ISIS, we must stop the ongoing nationwide amnesia about the two main wars fought with 9/11 as justification, and confront the new, post-Coalition Iraq. Any additional use of force in the region has to be weighed against what has happened with past uses of force. ISIS may not be a direct creation of the United States (with an assist from early 20th century France and Britain), but its current structure and power is related to US actions, and the War on Terror philosophy that terrorism must be stomped out using overwhelming force.

This is a terror group which is now confirmed to have access to chemical weapons. Just this week another Iraqi Army base was overrun, giving ISIS access to huge amounts of US-provided weapons and transportation.

The biggest discussion since 9/11 that nobody in the government or national media doesn’t want to have is a huge one: what it terrorism, and how is it persisting despite sanctions and military action? Central to this indefinite War is the justification of force without the analysis of its consequences. The Sunni insurgency comes from how the initial invasion of Iraq was manage, and how the Shi’ite and Sunni constituencies have their own paramilitary groups that can act independently of governmental authority. ISIS is a product of dysfunction, and there is no way to remove Coalition action from that dynamic.

Patriotism is a cheap word these days. Only brash, simple action can be patriotic, and dissent is met with ambivalence, if not outright hostility. No matter what ideology you subscribe to, what the United States does or does not do in the Middle East has a body count attached to it. Its size is important, as well as how we take responsibility for collateral damage, if at all.

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Mark Driscoll is out, lessons learned?

A follow up on an earlier story I did in August on the Mars Hill Church, one of the largest churches in Washington state, and the accountability crisis that surrounded its leader, Pastor Mark Driscoll.

He resigned today, though many of his critics (often former Church members and elders) thought it displayed the same arrogance and lack of self-introspection that led to the crisis in the first place.

 

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Why did I?

Beneath stars and stripes
a line, snaking and ethereal
filled with hundreds
of thousands
each waiting for an answer

only one question -

“why did I deserve to die?”

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The Kurdish experiment: democracy and freedom in the 21st century

Thousands of Yazidis were rescued in August by terrorists. Wait, I thought ISIS (Daesh) were the terrorists?

Oh they are, to be sure. Just that the United States government hasn’t been eager to admit that it wasn’t United States humanitarian intervention that saved these people hidden in those Iraqi mountains. It was the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, best known by their acronym, PKK.

Three PKK fighters pose with an captured ISIS tank.  Taken August 25, 2014.

Three PKK fighters pose with an captured ISIS tank.
Taken August 25, 2014.

The PKK has a history of violent conflict with Turkey, which earned it a spot on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list. The past few years have seen one of the most radical political transformations in modern history. Led by their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK has ended their armed conflict and replaced that struggle with another. Something special is happening in parts of Kurdistan- the most daring democratic experiment of the 21st century.

Writing for The Guardian, David Graeber gives an idea of the political transformation led by the PKK and its Syrian sister party, the PYD:

But what has happened in Rojava, where the Syrian revolution gave Kurdish radicals the chance to carry out such experiments in a large, contiguous territory, suggests this is anything but window dressing. Councils, assemblies and popular militias have been formed, regime property has been turned over to worker-managed co-operatives – and all despite continual attacks by the extreme rightwing forces of Isis. The results meet any definition of a social revolution.

These assemblies start at the lowest level, electing higher levels. Diversity is mandated, including women in positions of authority. Radical literature is discussed frequently in meetings. In some places, the non-state assembly structure is more powerful than the regular government. In some sense, the PKK is replacing the independent country they cannot have with a new sort of free society- one that comes from direct democracy and an end to oppressive institutions.

As Reflections on a Revolution (ROAR) published earlier this year, the PKK has gone through a earnest transformation thanks in part to the honesty of its leader:

Öcalan embarked, in his prison writings, on a thorough re-examination and self-criticism of the terrible violence, dogmatism, personality cult and authoritarianism he had fostered: “It has become clear that our theory, programme and praxis of the 1970s produced nothing but futile separatism and violence and, even worse, that the nationalism we should have opposed infested all of us. Even though we opposed it in principle and rhetoric, we nonetheless accepted it as inevitable.” Once the unquestioned leader, Öcalan now reasoned that “dogmatism is nurtured by abstract truths which become habitual ways of thinking. As soon as you put such general truths into words you feel like a high priest in the service of his god. That was the mistake I made.”

So many hardline Marxist-Leninist militias are unable to break out of their dogma, and they either forsake socialism altogether, or ossify into obscurity. Perhaps there is another way to move forward, to transform from a failed revolution to a thriving one.

Everything that is reprehensible about ISIS is countered by the Kurdish revolutionaries. Clearly they are not terrorists of the same ilk.

Female and male PKK fighters pose during training.

Female and male PKK fighters pose during training.

Thankfully the past day has seen CNBC post a short editorial with a simple title- “Why the US should take PKK off the terror list“. Put simply, the United States has gotten its ass saved by the PKK showing up to save Yazidi- especially after the US-trained peshmerga forces ran away after a brief fight with ISIS. For Western powers, the story of PKK should be positive- an enemy has become a friend. Not due to shifting alliances (the old Cold War mentality), but the transformation of a strong, dedicated group of people.

ROAR ends their feature with a call to action:

those of us who value the idea of civilization owe our gratitude to the Kurds, who are fighting the jihadists of Islamist fascism day and night on the frontlines in Syria and Iraq, defending radical democratic values with their lives.

The Kurds, in particular the PKK and the PYD, should be the talk of the radical left, and any that oppose what ISIS is doing to Iraq and Syria. But the Kurds are often ignored, and even moreso the democratic revolution that is going on in some areas. Let that not be the case. The Kurds are a stateless people, their history is one of cultural loss, genocide, and struggle- armed and unarmed. They have a story to tell us all, we only need listen.

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