Voting against, rather than voting for

Here’s a somewhat different perspective on American electoral policies: what happened last month was not an election. It would be defined better as a referendum. In an election you vote for a candidate. In a referendum to accept or reject a person or issue.

The term election encompasses referendums (here are some definitions) and other forms of democratic election, but voter mentality is firmly against one party and thus for the other.

In a two-party system, all elections inherently boil down to either accepting or rejecting the incumbent party. A certain portion of voters are ideologically for one party or the other, but the swing demographic that decides power mostly votes on a core sense of frustration.

Why do midterm elections almost always go bad for the party which won the presidency two years prior? It can’t be a radical shift in policy, but rather a realization that election promises are more symbolic than anything else.

The greatest encapsulation of the see-saw elections of modern states like America comes from a Canadian progressive leader named Tommy Douglas. Douglas was the mind behind universal healthcare and was named by voters as the greatest Canadian of all time. The parable is called “Mouseland”.

November 4, 2014 is the latest in a line of mice choosing cats to hold power over them. That deep sense of anger, that most people are getting screwed over, comes from the government of cats. Some may be red, some may be blue, however the key issue is that they are cats- they will always do wrong because that’s what cats do to mice.

Two things are needed to begin the process towards a more authentic democracy:

1) Money must be removed from politics, and the system of lobbying based on sorta-bribes eliminated. A series of steps could help make politicians look more like their constituents- racially, culturally, and economically.

2) Multi-party democracy must come into existence. This relates to the first party in that big, money-laden political machines help suppress alternatives. Much of this stems from an electoral system that values entrenched interests. If there are several viable parties, elections becomes less of a referendum and more about ideas. Whatever issues the German system may have, their five main parties represent the spectrum from anti-capitalism to classical liberalism to Greens to social conservatives. In America a liberal have two options in most cases when they are frustrated- vote Republican or abstain.

Whatever form and function a democratic gains, it is clear that the people need something to vote for rather than vote against. For all votes against a certain person or policy is a vote rooted in fear. And as one of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms stated, in a good society there must be freedom from fear.

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Background traffic

Background traffic
rushes constant
indistinctly
witching hour holds
its secrets, close to the chest
as pocket aces
on a table, full
to the brim with suckers

night yellowed
sodium lights splash
upon pavement
parked cars of black,
or blue, perhaps green
thank god the police
aren’t asking for a description

soon the cliche will come
that it is darkest before dawn
despite that being
demonstrably untrue,
a diplomatic term for
bullshit.

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2014 Midterms: Something about nothing

The 2014 midterm elections were boring. They fit into a long historical trend of midterms going against the president’s party, and one only needs to look at the distorted ratio of Democratic seats in the Senate that needed defending to Republican ones. Gerrymandering makes the House increasingly predictable and dull- any interesting results occur months earlier in primaries.

Something was learned. Something about nothing. Because nothing was the Democratic Party’s platform going into the elections.

Their economic policy plank was insubstantial. Little effort was dedicated to big-picture ideas, the sort that might override voter cynicism and record-low approval ratings for Congress. Broadly speaking, the Democrats had a reactionary campaign. Rather than defending the president’s agenda or the liberalism that will always be tied to the party, they ran away and tried to find shelter, either with local issues or populist conservatism.

In the end, moving yet further to the right is not going to win elections. If people wish to vote for a conservative candidate, that’s what the Republican Party is there for. Polls show that the public wants economic justice and ending elite privilege. But that’s ignored, so the plan instead is to ignore empirical evidence and go with pundit wisdom. 2014 shouldn’t be thought of as the voters choosing R’s over D’s, but rather a mass of people that saw nothing worth voting for.

As someone outside the two-party mindset, I have no anticipation that the Democratic Party will see the error of its ways and become some great progressive engine worth supporting. But even in the limited spectrum in the United States, it’s clear that there’s no winning scenario at the end of all this. The Republican Party has coalesced around a selection of bold, simple, and terrible ideas. They have an agenda worth hating. There is substance. Democratic Senate candidates fled substance, and often latched onto GOP ideas in the absence of anything else.

Personally I’m glad that Proposition 47 passed in my home state of California. It is a great step towards ending prison overcrowding and the mass incarceration culture. It’s also the sort of sensible policy that isn’t getting passed in Congress anytime soon. A bit of direct democracy is the only respite from gridlock.

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Saving the entire world

“whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

-Quote from the Talmud

How is humanity redeemed?

This year has brought war, genocide, disease, and conflict- religious, ethnic, between genders and sexual orientations. So grave are these social problems, it would seem that they would drag all of humankind down. Present actions and past injustice merge together and tar the seven billion people living today.

Despite the power of moral failing, there is a countering force. Our time here is justified by those that step beyond self-interest and reach out. They blow apart social barriers, help those that society would rather erase from memory.

It is typical to help a friend who is struggling with homelessness. It is transformative to do the same for a complete stranger.

It is expected that we counsel a relative in their times of crisis. It is transformative to listen to those who no relatives to hear them.

The moral universe is large, but it is sustained by tiny actions done in a concerted way. No individual can feed all the hunger, heal all the sick, bring back fathers and children from the dead. We are born into a broken world, and lacking perfection we must choose progress instead.

One life. We can all try to save one life, at some point. In doing so, all the suffering and strife is put into a new, more bearable perspective.

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One day

Perhaps one day
fog breaks
to bring forth sunbeams
eagerly queueing behind
slate-grey veils
instead of naked judgement
cutting a path
with fire and shattering force

Will, one day in the distant future
when my body has decayed
to feed a cypress tree
overlooking the churning, roiling surf
one day,
will those that find the Earth
as my kind bequeathed,
flaws and all
discover in a meadow
of overpowering green
the last of the rusted rifles
that we once used to commit
societal suicide

One day, will “one day”
cease to be an idea

and become
one day.

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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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