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Musings on Politics, The Tea Party, and America's Rampant Electile Dysfunction

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    Sunday
    Sep072014

    Is it Time for Single-Issue Voting?

    I find myself this morning strangely sympathizing with those who cast their votes simply on the basis of whether or not a candidate agrees with them on one single issue.

    It wasn’t a position I ever expected to consider. The idea of basing one’s entire decision on a single issue, a narrow thread, seemed always to me the height of obstinance, a flavor of stubborn that I find thoroughly unpalatable. It is always, I believe (perhaps with equal stubbornness) necessary to look at all of a candidate’s beliefs.

    Clearly, some of those issues will be more important to me, to you, than others will. The last few years, for example, have me peering through a jeweler’s loupe at where a candidate stands on gun control, and in years past I have pendulumed from voting rights to economics to war to climate change—all issues that, along with much of the country at the time, weighed heavily on my decision. Still, I always looked for the balance, with no single concern serving as a litmus test.

    That may change this time around.

    For the longest time a number of organizations—from Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) to CoffeePartyUSA have shown us that the corrupting influence of money in politics beats all, standing as the Goliath to every voter’s David but, unlike the biblical underdog, continuing to win. Money, dark and light, flows to all compass points, flooding us with special-interest ideologies while politicians, concerned more with their next election than those who elected them, spend inordinate amounts of time simply raising money for additional campaigns.

    One organization—Mayday—is this time taking a far more active role than any have in the past and, in doing so, have made us aware of candidates that until recently had barely blipped the radar screens.

    Founded by Lawrence Lessig, the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and founder of Rootstrikers, Mayday is a full-on political action committee, or PAC, and makes no effort to hide the fact that its purpose is to promote candidates who are taking active stances against the overwhelming taint that is money-in-politics. (True to its mission, it reveals a great deal about its own donor base.)

    The money-in-politics issue is of supreme importance to me, one of two that have driven most of my political thinking, speaking, and writing over the last few years (the other being hypocrisy in political coverage), and so when I saw that first flyer from Mayday in support of Jim Rubens, I paid attention.

    Until I saw the flyer I had no idea Jim Rubens was running for the Senate, nor even who he was. My vote was firmly in the Scott Brown camp, a moderate Republican we New Hampshirites inherited from Massachusetts. Brown is the kind of Republican we need more of in Washington, someone who (though he stays just far enough right to gain the needed baseline popularity), is much more of a traditional Republican, having decidedly moderate leanings.

    Mayday, however, has a different idea. Of Rubens Mayday says: “Jim Rubens is the only Republican running for Senate who puts our issue front and center.” The organization then goes on to ask that we “Help Republicans send their party a message: voters care about corruption.”

    This voter does. Definitely. And that brings forth my conundrum. You see, there is much about Jim Rubens that I don’t like, issues that—aside from money in politics—would almost certainly have given me no reason to consider his candidacy. He has, for example, received an “A+” rating from the NRA, and he pledges to oppose gun registration, any bans on “so-called assault weapons,” or any limits on magazine capacity. He also espouses a fiscal policy that comes from the Ron Paul playbook (“The Federal Reserve Board controls the interest rates we receive and pay and prints money out of thin air, enabling Congress [to] perpetuate unsustainable deficit spending.”), gives broad support to charter schools and “family privacy” regarding education, and refers to the “crisis along our southern border” as a “crisis of the President’s own creation,” arguing that we need to send those kids back. On the other hand, he accepts global warming (and its man-made origins), believes that gay marriage in New Hampshire is a “settled issue” and one he respects, and believes we should avoid further intervention in the Middle East.

    A mixed bag, to be sure, but definitely to the right of Scott Brown.

    Ahh… but then there’s this, from Rubens’ website and part of a nine-point “Political Reform Agenda”:

    [I support requiring] all campaign contributions and expenditures of all types and to all entities engaged in electioneering and lobbying to be reported in realtime in an easily searchable public database.

    And this:

    [I support enacting] a public elections financing system for candidates voluntarily opting out of the current private money system. Allow voters to use a portion of their own taxes to fund the campaigns of their choice. Each two years, every citizen 18 years and older is given a $50 tax rebate check assignable to and spendable only by candidates for Congress or President.  

    He then promises that:

    If elected, after my time in office, I pledge not to accept any position lobbying for or against legislation in Washington.

    And so I’m torn. This guy is saying all the things I want to him to say on the issue that is most important to me. And yet he isn’t the candidate that aligns most purely with my own personal beliefs, some of them almost as key. So what do I do? Do I use the litmus test? Do I give Rubens my vote because he’s taking the brave step of abandoning corruption? Do I vote on this one, single issue? 

    Sunday
    Aug312014

    A Public Service Announcement for Viewers of FOX News

    As the summer winds down many of us will—perhaps too quickly—return to the more sedate activities that mark the shortened days, the end of vacation season, and the arrival of any number of poor Oktoberfest beers. For many pseudo-Republicans, this will likely mean spending less time outdoors skeet shooting and more time indoors watching FOX News.

    And seeing as how outdoor activity is healthier than watching FOX News—hell, a meal of pork rinds and Red Bull is healthier than watching FOX News—I’m offering the following Fall/Winter FOX News summary so that you won’t have to waste time watching it at all.

    (Quick note of explanation for those who might be new to this blog: I’m a Republican, but of the moderate/Eisenhower/anti-slavery type which, as it turns out, means that I’m, dodo-like, one of a breed nearing extinction. But it also means that I recognize crap when I see and hear it, particular when it comes from those who have hijacked the mantle and use it to promote hypocrisy and hatred.)

    So here goes: the following gives you a month-by-month highlight reel of what you can be absolutely sure Hannity, O’Reilly, Kelly, and kin will be covering on their respective “news” and “information” hours.

    September

    As schools open across the country we can count on another round of science-versus-religion talk, along with the usual diatribes against teachers’ unions, the lack of school choice, and the shocking number of children who don’t know the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. As an added bonus we can expect a special report (not to be confused with Bret Baier’s daily Special Report which, by definition, isn’t Special, or even just special, since he does it every day) from Megyn Kelly on the values and traditions embedded in the role of “stay-at-home” mom, even though she isn’t one.

    October

    The month will largely focus around stories that dredge up the terrors of Halloween. These will be broken into three categories: First will be the rise of Satanic influences in society because we’ve lost our religion to secular (i.e., “liberal”) forces. The second will be something about the economy and how disastrous it really is, with at least one talking head promising us another Black Tuesday. The third will be about how our streets are too dangerous for our children to go out trick-or-treating, unlike back in the fifties when all the white kids could do it without any problem at all. Oh, and it will be Obama’s fault.

    October bonus topic: the beginnings of the annual “War on Christmas” rumbles will be heard, particularly from Sean.

    November

    The adjective “black” will move from Tuesday to Friday, and the meaning shift from loss to profit as discussions about how late or early or early-late or late-early stores open or close or partly open or open only for special deals on the Friday after Thanksgiving. FOX goes a bit schizophrenic over this one, torn between the push for traditional family values (the Rockwellian turkey feast) and the business/growth/economy push so loved (particularly by Stuart Varney.) This particular topic (and its perennial dichotomies) gives us the only real fun in the FOX-watching rituals, so if you feel you absolutely must watch some FOX during the remainder of the year, this is the month to do it.

    Oh… and more “War on Christmas” stuff.

    December

    ATHEISTS! ATHEISTS! ATHEISTS!

    And that takes us through the year. I certainly hope the above has been helpful to you. Note that by carefully digesting these summaries you will undoubtedly free up tons of time during which you can do more productive things, like closing clinics and limiting voting rights. After all: isn’t that what pseudo-Republicans are all about?

    Tuesday
    Aug052014

    Gaza: A Poem

    [NOTE: This is a cross-post from The Pulitzer Praises. For those interested in finding out more about that project, please start here.] 

     

     

    GAZA

    Every child questions the rain

    sooner or later,

    wonders what it means, where it comes from--

    “Those are God’s tears,” we’re told,

    (though never wondering at the sadness that

    makes

    God

    cry).

     

    A rite, these tears: like abandoning the breast

    or walking to school alone

    or staying out late with the third-most beautiful girl you know.

     

    Or leaving home…

     

    A rite: like any other circumcision that reminds

    you of what you are in ways not always pleasant.

     

    And halfway around our world

    (and isn’t it ours, after all?)

    children live who

    cannot walk to school

    or stay out late

    (though they do leave home, and may again tomorrow).

     

    Surrounded by killer angels

    we struggle to understand how people can revere the same history,

    claim the same home,

    disbelieve the others’ same God;

    how people can revisit Abel’s Cain mutiny with such cyclicality

    And such—yes—reverence.

    (It is the only word, after all, which justifies.)

     

    Those truly embattled are those who

    do not yet understand siege,

    or enemy

    or amputate,

    who have not yet been taught to hate.

    A rock is a rock to them;

    a stone, a stone:

    something over which small feet stumble when running for mothers.

     

    Those truly embattled only understand

    the visceral knife-stab of fear.

    For the rest, there are no sharp edges,

    no clean blades,

    nothing to measure success or failure.

    Only body counts until the next time that

    wizened and shattered men pretend détente when

    (really)

    all that is happening

    is a re-arming respite

    while, in the mean time, these children will

    sooner or later

    come to question the rain and will be told:

    “Those are God’s tears.”

     

    But there, just there, a child asks, too:

    “Then what is the thunder, omma, and what is the lightning?”

    Saturday
    Jul122014

    Nails on a Chalkboard: The Implosion of Coffee Party USA

    For the few remaining who actually care, Coffee Party USA is suffering what some have termed a crisis in leadership, but which is far more existential, far more visceral.

    The Coffee Party (CP) is a “grassroots, non-partisan movement that aims to restore the principles and spirit of democracy in America.” The origins of the organization begin with Annabel Park, a filmmaker and political activist with a strong following. (Check here for more on the group’s formation and history.) Eventually organizing as a 501(c)(4), CP formalized into a national entity with a board of directors and a loosely-connected array of local chapters that depends largely on good will, connections, and civil conversation. This last is very important; from the Coffee Party website comes the “Civility Pledge”:

    As a member or supporter of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree. I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process.

    The organization has something of a schizophrenic following: while boasting nearly a half-million fans on its Facebook page, the total number of paying members and donors—as near as anyone can tell—hovers closer to 1,000, making it an organization with a strong reach to the barely involved, but an anemic connection to the true activists. It’s an organization that has done little with little, and with little attention.

    And yet: I’m one of those “few remaining who actually care.”

    I came to the Coffee Party self-serving; a desire to promote and sell my book had me hunting for radio and social media opportunities and so I reached out to then Board President Eric Byler asking for a spot on one of the group’s internet radio shows. I quickly struck up a friendship with Eric which led, first, to him and me co-hosting a new radio show, and then on to my appointment to the CP board of directors. I served until the fall of 2013, when I resigned over ideological differences.

    The people I worked with were—and are—fundamentally good people, but in late 2013 they made a tragic error in judgment. The group has always struggled with fundraising; filled with passion but lacking key non-profit skills, the group, frustrated, followed the lead of one director in pursuing a multi-level-marketing alliance with a questionable energy company, Viridian.  This decision was a groupthinked disaster, leading to discussions of conflict of interest, adjustments of by-laws, and the need to litmus test any new directors. One director—Eric himself—resigned over the issue. When Eric resigned, he went public to the membership (via Facebook), and the membership was understandably concerned (at first) and then irate, particularly over the lack of communication about what had been going on.

    A call for board resignations began and, up to this point, things looked like they could be managed. But then people decided to show their very worst selves. It wasn’t long before the “—gate” appellation formed: Viridiangate. Soon after came the rare but nevertheless obvious references to Nazism, communism, and Stalinism. Factions formed. People yelled, screamed, and questioned each other’s integrity. Board members lashed back, several reaching new lows in so-called “civil conversation.” People were banned from the various CP properties, and posts were deleted. In retaliation to the retaliation, members began hijacking threads whenever and wherever they could, preventing any of those other 400,000 plus people from engaging in any kind of reasoned dialog. Questions and statements were twisted and parsed for positional advantage. People who in the past could have been counted on to challenge such incivility began to reveal themselves as no better or worse than any other participant in any other mob. The few remaining board supporters were continually harassed, badgered, and bothered until, in frustration, most simply gave up and left the conversation. The whole thing was a true exercise in how a small minority can completely outscream any reasonable conversation. It got ugly. Very ugly. And very un-CP-like.

    And the truth, supposedly a priority for CP and its members, was forced to the gangplank, sacrificed to the baser twisting of supposed “facts.” Make no mistake: the board members have tripped over themselves trying to justify banning posts, jettisoning members, fixing elections, and just generally figuring out how to redefine the concept of cognitive dissonance. But at the same time a small group of very vocal members have gone to great lengths to twist any word, thought, action, or intention into cringe-worthy conspiracy theories and blood-red anger, not only directed at the board, but directed at anyone who defends them or, in some cases, anyone who even tries to see both sides of the story. And both sides have systematically opposed any real attempts at conciliation, instead spending time accusing each other by asking ridiculous questions of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” variety.

    Today, the dispute left the CP and FB confines; an article came out about this crisis. Written by Laura Sesana and released on arbiternews.com, the article presents just these kinds of “facts” while conveniently hiding any real truth.

    It presents the following, for example:

    Despite cutting all ties with [Annabel] Park and the threatened lawsuit, the Coffee Party has continued to use her image and slogans (which are protected by copyright) to promote their website and Facebook page without Ms. Park’s permission.

    Certainly “facts” so far as they go. But “truth?”  Not so much.

    Technically, the board did not cut ties with Annabel Park. She left the Coffee Party in 2011, both as a leader and as a member, though she has been granted permission to access the organization’s assets at various times in order to promote programs of mutual benefit to the group’s principles.  Also, Annabel was only one of several hundred FB fans (out of nearly a half-million, remember) who were banned by the page’s administrators, a practice first initiated when Ms. Park was still leading the Coffee Party.

    But then, that truth would get in the way of the desired narrative….

    Also, it’s true that the Coffee Party has ”continued to use her image and slogans,” (though it’s unclear whether they are protected by copyright; CP claims it’s using public sources), but doesn’t also point out that Ms. Park was apparently fine with such usage for the three years that have elapsed since she left the Coffee Party, and only now—when she vehemently disagrees with the board—is she raising the issue.

    And while it’s also a fact that the Viridian plan was “discovered by a group of members,” it would be more truthful to point out additional context, which includes Annabel herself using deception in texts to the board (which she admits to but justifies) prior to Eric’s resignation, and that it was Eric who took the details public. In that sense, it was more accurately revealed to a group of members.

    And what of all that supposed civility? Well, lately there really isn’t much of it to go around. Oh sure, most of the words appear civil enough but, in the same way that Clinton had us ponder what the word “is” is, we all know a good dodge when we see it. And trust me: the dodging would make any storefront politician proud.

    We get things like this:

    You can not [sic] have a civil conversation with liars and obfuscators.

    a blanket statement that apparently makes incivility okay. As in, for example, calling people liars.

    And here’s some snark sent in response to the revelation that a particular board meeting did not include a financial update (despite the fact that dozens of others did):

    No financial report!!!! INCOMPETENCE!!!! OFF with her head!

    This one gets a bit meaner still…

    [She] was not elected either... not to anything, not even [Coffee Party] dogcatcher. Sorry for the comparison to all you hardworking Dogcatchers out there.

    And while many may try to parse all of the above and somehow pretend my definition of “civil” is too self-righteous, try this one on for size:

    [He] is a piece of shit. Period. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that. (I normally don't swear on social media, but I can't think of a better word.)

    I can. And so, I’m guessing, can anyone who is serious about civility.

    For the last four years I’ve been writing passionately about hypocrisy, particularly how hypocrisy in our political arena leads to us-them thinking, demonization, and ultimately a dehumanization of those we oppose. It’s okay for us to use money in politics, because we’re right and they’re wrong. It’s okay for us to lobby because we want reform and they want the status quo. And it’s okay for us to be uncivil because it’s not uncivil if you use the right words and if they’re evil anyway.

    If the Coffee Party is going to survive it’s going to take a few brave people to stand up and shout at everybody on both sides who persist in such behavior. For a while a few were actually doing that, but they’ve grown exhausted and have retired their efforts. And so what’s left, unfortunately, are nothing but the sounds of nails on a chalkboard, screeches reverberating in a self-constructed echo chamber in which only the already converted participate. There is no longer an interest in truth, only “facts; no longer an interest in building, only in tearing down; no longer an interest in two-way conversation, only in unilateral shouting.

    When the dust settles, as it eventually must, I fear there will be nothing left standing, and all that potential will have violently crumbled, a useless footnote in the attempt to create a better, more civil body politic.

    Thursday
    Jan232014

    Am I an Activist?

    Today is the penultimate day of the New Hampshire Rebellion, a 185-mile, north-to-south walk across the state of New Hampshire in support of eliminating corruption in politics. The walk began at Dixville Notch (historically, the first town in the nation to vote in each presidential election), then moved through Gorham, North Conway, Laconia, Concord, and Merrimack. Tomorrow it finishes up in Nashua, just north of the Massachusetts border. Headed by Rootstrikers' Lawrence Lessig (also of Harvard University), the goal is to create a swelling awareness of the ways in which money corrupts our political system. It’s a noble cause, and one I wholly support.

    Well, perhaps not wholly.  I’m not walking.

    It’s not that I found out about it too late. A good friend, Eric Byler (filmmaker, activist and head of CoffeePartyUSA), told me about it well in advance of the event. He knows the topic is important to me, and knows I live in New Hampshire, so thought it a no-brainer that I would want to get involved.

    I have a host of weak reasons for not walking. First of all, it’s really, really cold here in New Hampshire (as I sit here the temperature is cresting at six degrees), and I’m not as young or hearty as I once was. Also, my wife is out on the west coast this week and I have two dogs, with no real way to have them cared for even if I had decided to take an entire day (or more) to trudge through the cold. And then there’s the whole transportation thing. If I drove to where a day’s walk started, then how would I get back there after the walk? I’d be stranded without transportation. Oh, and let’s not forget that I’m an introvert, and don’t generally enjoy hanging out with groups of people.

    Poor excuses all, and so I feel a little guilty about it. Real activists, I’m trained to believe, are those who actually get out there and do things. People like Eric and his partner, Annabel Park, who spent months trudging through the south in search of their Story of America. People like Riki Ott, co-director of Ultimate Civics and co-founder of Move to Amend.

    Me… I’m a writer.

    So I wonder, constantly, whether I’m an activist in any real sense of the word. Strangely—given the previous paragraphs—I’ve decided that I am. I do something, the thing I’m good at. I write about what I care for with respect to our social contract, focusing on the ways in which we should share our common space and strive for honesty, truth, and integrity. We’ve all heard that the pen is mightier than the sword. Perhaps you don’t accept Bulwer-Lytton's overused cliché, but you must admit that the pen can be at least as mighty. Look at what Twitter has wrought, and that’s certainly all about the pen. Or the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., so quotable that they still (and probably always will) continue to move people toward change.

    What’s important is not the how or the what, but the caring, and if I show my caring through words then, yes, I guess I’m an activist.

    If you care, and can contribute in the best way that you know how, then you, too, are an activist. Maybe you walk for an ideal. Maybe you risk arrest. Maybe you make films. Or maybe, like me, you write. Whatever you do is worthwhile, as long as you do it because you care.

    So then: How do you care?