Saturday, March 11, 2017

America's Two-Party System Twilight Zone

Some of my friends will tell you that I’m a tree-hugging liberal, but if you want to know the truth I’m a man without a political party. When it comes to social issues, I am certainly a liberal and I dance with the Democrats. I would prefer not to know the intimate details of your personal life, I could care less who you sleep with and please marry whomever you please. Your body is your business and should never, ever be under the purview of the government - state, federal or otherwise. And as of this writing the only known habitable planet in the multiverse is this little blue one right here, so can We The People please make sure it remains habitable for future generations? Yes, We The People means the government - it is not some fierce and scary entity; it is made up of the people YOU voted for, trusting they would represent YOU. If you don’t vote, shame on you.

 When it comes to fiscal issues, however, I am anything but liberal. I’m a fiscal conservative, and if you know anything about government, there is absolutely no way to vote for a fiscally conservative whether they call themselves Republican or Democrat. As we saw in Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s health care proposal, which suggests gutting Medicaid to fund a $600 million tax break for millionaires, Republicans are always looking for ways to hand money out to the richest people in the world. Their current federal budget proposal spends $2.6 trillion in federal funds giving tax cuts to millionaires. Democrats, on the other hand, are always looking for more ways to reward people for not working and incentivize laziness. In 2015, the federal budget provided $362 billion for welfare-related programs. 

What if I don’t want to do either? What if I am primarily interested in balancing the federal budget in a way that represents actually spending less money? Call me crazy, but having the ability to destroy the entire planet fifty times over seems like more than enough. I also don’t agree with the Trump Administration’s philosophy that we need to ramp up defense spending by $54 billion. President Trump says this increase is needed because under President Barack Obama America’s military was “depleted,” but Trump seems to have missed the fact that over the last decade or so warfare has been transformed in a way that no longer requires troops, fleets of bombers and massive naval buildups. President Obama recognized that cyber warfare and drone strikes have replaced conventional ways of fighting and thus reduced the American investment in outdated technology. It’s certainly more fiscally responsible to continue that trend, not to mention how much safer America is if her leadership is squarely focused on current realities.

I’m also not sold on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, even though my family can’t afford the version that was adopted in Texas. While I would certainly love to have affordable, single-payer health care that does not require unpredictable co-pays and battles with insurance companies that make their money by finding ways to not cover their customer’s needs, the partisan quibblers in Washington fell well short of that under Obama and are trying to take a huge step backwards under Trump. If I could give up 30% of my income, as many Europeans and Canadians do, and know that my family is completely and competently covered with nothing out of pocket, I would jump at the chance. Since our government is largely under the control of multinational for-profit pharmaceutical companies, it’s highly unlikely we get that option regardless of which party is in control of the agenda.

I’m also sick and tired of being told that my vote has something to do with religion. Separation of Church and State was built into the United States Constitution by people who were fleeing state-sponsored religious persecution in England. Modern politicians sometimes try to make the case that Thomas Jefferson was not really trying to build a wall between religion and politics, but he absolutely was, as evidenced by this direct quote:

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." - Thomas Jefferson
Inexplicably, Republicans tend to garner the votes of the uber-religious, despite their agenda being about as far from anything the founder of Christianity would espouse as one could get. Jesus of Nazareth may not be the primary author of Christianity - that would be Paul of Tarsus - but the red letters in the New Testament speak of loving our neighbors as ourselves, serving the poor with all that we have and turning the other cheek when offended. It’s safe to say that Jesus would be all in favor of social safety nets like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of which are under constant attack from the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the Democrats can’t seem to do enough for those Jesus referred to when he said, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40).

Simply put, if we are truly and faithfully to evoke Jesus of Nazareth, the Democratic Party does a much better job of representing his teachings than do their Republican counterparts. Both parties fall short, so once again I state that I believe we are better off leaving Jesus, Allah, God or any other religious figure out of our political discussions. Our religion certainly informs our political attitudes, but not nearly as much as the high-powered lobbyist who just dropped a fat check on the desk of the person we sent to Washington to represent US.

So what’s to be done? I can’t vote based on my fiscal worldview because neither political party is interested in actually balancing the budget. I can’t vote based on my family’s health and wellbeing because both parties are at the beckon call of big pharma and big insurance companies who will fight to make sure their profit margins remain grotesque. I’m not interested in involving my God in the discussion because the very foundation of America is based upon excluding the concept of “God.” No two people can fully agree on who that is, exactly, anyway.

What I would really like is for the people I vote for on election day to actually do what they say they’re going to do. I would like for my representatives, from the President down to my local city councilman, to spend their time listening to people and addressing their needs in ways that only government can. For that to happen, we have to start with ending Citizens United, which basically allows huge corporations to buy our representatives and prevent them from doing anything that might mean billionaires have to pay for the infrastructure and human capital that allows them to make their billions. The only way my local representative is going to really care what I think about any given issue is if the $100 I have to donate to their campaign is meaningful. I can’t possibly compete with Exxon Mobil, Halliburton, Monsanto or Big Pharma, which is often called America’s new mafia. Until we level the playing field by cutting corporations out of the process there is almost no point in my voting, anyway. The world of politics has always been dirty, but over the last couple of decades it has become downright despicable. People who are supposed to represent the best and brightest of America, sent to work together to solve our most difficult problems, have become consumed by partisan bickering and corporate money-grabbing. This is not what Abraham Lincoln envisioned when, in his Gettysburg Address, he said: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” If he were here today he might even say that it has perished, after all.
Until we get it back, the distractions we so easily succumb to are blinding us to the fact that America's democracy has devolved into nothing more than a system of corporate fascism.

This is not how it's supposed to work. Democrats are supposed to come to the table with their pet projects and Republicans are supposed to come with their pet projects and the two sides are supposed to hammer out compromises that best represent the wants and needs of their constituents back home. Corporate interests are not supposed to matter one iota, especially since corporate interests are often at direct odds with what's best for the voting populace. Yes, American corporations create jobs (largely in third-world countries where people work for slave wages), but they also pollute the environment to the maximum extent they can get away with and they undermine the working class at every turn. It is our government's job to be the watchdog that protects the rights guaranteed to every American in the Constitution.

 We The People, then, must be vigilant in our efforts to know what our elected representatives are doing and to let them hear about it when they don't do what we elected them to do. The phone numbers of our state representatives should be in our phones and frequently used. We should spend at least as much time following politics are we do watching reality TV and really a lot more. We should demand non-partisan or at least bi-partisan viewpoints such as those expressed on XM's POTUS (Channel 124), NPR and many of the sources cited by Real Clear Politics. We should turn off highly partisan sources like FOX News, much of what airs on MSNBC and "fake news" outlets like Breitbart. If you're not getting both sides of an issue, you're not getting the truth. Period.

 Thomas Jefferson also once wrote: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people." If we fail to educate ourselves, we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by those who seek to use us to enrich themselves at our expense. Intentionally mis-educating ourselves is surely even worse, and plays right into the hands of the rich and powerful who have taken over much of our government. Otherwise, where can we point our finger as government fails and our precious planet dies around us? Nowhere but at ourselves.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

No One Gives A Damn What You Think!

For some reason, the one thing that I still haven’t let go of in the wake of my decision to stop “officially” covering the NBA is my Twitter account. I guess it’s because I enjoy being able to talk back to news makers. Maybe it’s because I still feel a little bit obligated to tweet out insider information I still get related to the game I covered for 17 years. Whatever the reason, there is a cost involved with using a medium that anybody with internet access can join.

Of course, with a US Presidential election drawing near, I have been following political news and commenting on same via Twitter and just about every other form of communication. I am an administrator on a Bernie Sanders Facebook group with more than 45K members and have been an avid supporter of his campaign. Now that he’s out, I’m trying my best to convince myself that Hillary Clinton will fight the good fight for the middle class and the progressive values Sanders champions. It was in response to one of my tweets on this subject that some guy responded with this:

“Aren’t you just a sports writer? No one gives a damn what you think!”

It’s not uncommon for some idiot to respond in this way. If I could count the number of times I’ve had a rude, non-thinking response to something I tweeted I’m sure it would be a high number. I either block the person, respond with some equally inelegant remark, or put them down in a manner that is too sophisticated for them to understand. I have two degrees in English and teach college literature . . .I can do that in my sleep. 

Every once in a while, however, one of them sticks with me, and this was one of those.

No matter what I do for a living, my opinion on a political race matters. It matters a great deal, in fact. You see, America is a democracy (at least in name), and in a democracy everyone’s opinion matters. Whether you’re a professional writer, a teacher, a corporate CEO, a garbage collector, a movie producer or the person who bags groceries at the grocery store down the street, YOUR OPINION MATTERS.

Not only does it matter, the very existence of a functioning democracy depends on you informing yourself about the critical issues facing this country, discussing them with as many people as you can find to discuss them with - and that includes on social media - and then voting for the person or issue that best represents your vision of America’s future.

My response to the guy who told me no one cares what I think was to simply fire back the first movie line that came to my mind:

“Congressman Pennybaker, on election day people give a damn about what I tell them to give a damn about. THAT’S why I have a job.”  - Annette Bening, The American President

Then I blocked the guy and moved on.

But an hour or so I found myself thinking about that and, you know, being a writer I sat down to write this.

A better movie line to respond with would have been this one, from the same amazing movie:

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free. - Michael Douglas/President Andrew Shepherd

Right now our elected leaders mostly do the bidding of the super-rich corporations that find them in their ever more expensive campaigns. Some might go so far as to say what we have in America is not democracy so much as corporate fascism . . .I’ve even said it myself more than a few times. The only way to reclaim out democracy is for the people - ALL THE PEOPLE - to stop  devoting so much attention to entertainment and start paying attention to the real world. That means following politics, applying pressure to our representatives when they don’t do what we want them to do, and showing up at the fucking ballot box.

If you can’t do those basic things, then no, I don’t give a damn what you think.

As Michael Douglas said later in that outstanding speech, America has serious problems and we need serious people to solve them. Donald Trump is not a serious person. He is a reality TV hack and attention whore. His presidential campaign was a publicity stunt, and the fact that he went on to become the Republican nominee for president is a testament to just how far the American people have shoved their heads up their own asses.

My favorite candidate won’t be on the ballot come November. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) fought the good fight, but for reasons we won’t go into here he didn’t get the Democratic nomination. I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but she will damn well get my vote. She’s a serious person who is seriously qualified for the job.

No matter what your profession is, you’d better get to the ballot box in November and vote in the best interest of his country, yourself and your family. It’s your responsibility as one who benefits from the way of life our system of government affords you . . .and yes, the only way you have it as good as you have it is because of our system of government.

Whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you your opinion doesn’t matter. Not only does it matter, it is essential to the future of this country.

I welcome your comments and opinions, even if I don’t agree with them on Twitter - @TheRocketGuy

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wyatt Earp and America's Gun Issue

Legend has it that when Wyatt Earp took over as town marshall in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 one of the first things he did was begin enforcing a city ordinance that carrying guns was not allowed within the city limits.

You see, Tombstone, one of the wildest Western towns in the (largely fictitious) American West, was so wild that decent people couldn’t show their faces in town. The gunslingers ruled the day, and that was something Earp simply couldn’t abide. He and his brothers took back the town and shot down the few dastardly villains - in particular Ike Clanton and Billy McLaury - who opposed them. 

When Earp began enforcing Tombstone’s ordinance about carrying firearms, no one cited the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, as we so often do today. Perhaps that was because they were aware that in United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court ruled that, "The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence" and limited the applicability of the Second Amendment to the federal government. When the Second Amendment states that “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” it isn’t giving everyone free right to own and carry the weapon of their choice, it was referring to the militia system that existed in America at the time. 

In United States v. Miller (1939), the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” So the language here is clear, and only the massive contributions from the gun manufacturing lobby have warped the original intent of the Second Amendment to mean what it seems to today, which is that anyone can carry a semi-automatic assault rifle if they so choose. That is so far from the intent of the law as to be unrecognizable as a derivative.

Warping ahead to modern America, states like Texas have taken things one step further, not only making it legal to own just about anything short of a nuclear bomb, but also to openly carry those weapons. The streets of Texas are now beginning to have the ambiance of Tombstone, Arizona before the Earps arrived to stop the insanity. The natural progression of the “open carry law” was the disgusting display in Dallas last week, where a peaceful march in protest of police shooting seemingly-innocent black men turned into an opportunity for a military veteran with a weapons cache to declare war on white policemen who were there to keep the peace. When the shooting finally stopped, five police officers lay dead, while seven others were wounded.

This event, taken alone, can be written off as the work of an extremist who can be hated and held up as a modern day Clanton or McLaury. He can be seen as an abomination and vilified for his horrific act.

But is that really fair? Does that take in the bigger picture? Let’s take a moment to look at some facts dispassionately and from a Zen perspective before we decide what to make of the latest “lone gunman” to make headlines in Dallas.

America, as a nation, has decided that guns are good. In fact, the more the better. Americans want to shoot for sport, they want to feel that they can defend their property, and they want to be sure they can legally carry the guns that criminals carry illegally. Americans want hunting rifles, hand guns and semi-automatic assault weapons.

As a direct result of the American obsession with guns - and the military conflicts (public and secret) that the American government carries out around the world - gun manufacturers represent one of the most powerful lobbies in government. As such, there is little chance that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution will ever translate into laws preventing the abuse/perversion of said interpretation.

Due to the fact that just about anyone is liable to be carrying a gun around with them now, police officers are more on alert than ever, and some of those officers open fire on innocent civilians who do not appear to be any direct threat to them or the laws they are tasked with enforcing. 

In one recent incident, a police officer shot and killed a man who was in his car with his family. The officer asked the man to show his identification, and when the man reached for his ID the officer shot him because he thought the man might have been reaching for a gun.

In another recent incident, two officers confronted a man who was selling CDs in front of a convenience store. Video of the event shows the two officers essentially sitting on the man, who could not move, and then shooting him repeatedly because they thought he was reaching for a gun.

There are also many incidents each year in America where many innocent people are killed, such as in the Orlando, Florida night club shooting earlier this year, in which 49 people were murdered by a lone gunman.

A recent New York Times article breaks down an important statistic comparing gun crime in America to that of other industrial societies. Broken down into 24-hour periods and adjusting for population difference, the United States has more than five times the number of gun homicides as the next country on the list.

As a whole, America is not overly concerned about this situation. Yes, there are always the fringe protestors, but no one is putting real pressure on lawmakers to address this situation, nor is it likely that lawmakers could have much of an impact. After all, documentary after documentary has proven that existing laws are easily circumvented either covertly through the black market or openly at gun shows. Show a gun dealer the cash, you can probably take your pick of their stock without a background check or even a valid ID.

In all things, money rules the day. Money makes sure that the people who could most easily fix this problem keep turning blind eyes. Money makes sure that pseudo-news reports keep people afraid of the government coming for their guns, assuring that they keep buying more, assuring that the money is there for the gun lobbyists to make sure the government continues to roast in a disinterested glaze as they cash those checks.

In many ways American society has evolved tremendously since those gunslinging days of the wild, wild West. In this one way, however, de-evolution seems to be taking place, and this time there is no Wyatt Earp riding in to save the day.

The question is, how much longer will we tolerate this? We The People, not the government, not the police . . .US. 

Until we make gun violence the pariah on society that smoking became in the late 20th century, we are going to continue to have a hard time distinguishing between the evening news and the latest Quentin Tarantino film.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

What No Ones's Saying About Dwight Howard

How times have changed for Dwight Howard. It wasn’t that long ago that he was believed to be the key to winning an NBA championship. He helped lead the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and appeared to be headed for superstardom and regular appearances in the NBA’s Big Show. Unfortunately, his career hit a snag (or at least a Brendan Haywood elbow) when a back injury caused him to miss a huge chunk of the 2011-12 season. It turned out to be his final season in Orlando.

The Magic built a beautiful, state-of-the-art arena for him, they fired an outstanding head coach for him, and then, sensing his lack of loyalty, they traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Heralded as the next dominant force in LA, another Shaquille O’Neal to pair with Kobe Bryant, Howard would spend just one season with the Lakers. The pressure of playing in LA and the constant pressure from Bryant to work harder and play better seemed too much for Howard, who managed just 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in a disappointing season for LA, which ended with a 0-4 sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite his struggles, Howard was the biggest name in free agency during the summer of 2013. He talked to a number of the interested teams, but ultimately chose Houston, where Chandler Parsons and James Harden had been heavily recruiting him for months. The Rockets, too, heralded Howard as the championship harbinger, with fans talking about him as the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon. 

Once, again, however, Howard fell short of expectations. It wasn’t entirely his fault, of course, as the Rockets’ dysfunctional front office gave him an unproven head coach in Kevin McHale and shoot-first, shoot-second co-star in James Harden, whose unwillingness to feed Dwight the ball was matched only by his unwillingness to play defense. Howard’s play became every more uninspired, going from 18.3 points per game in his first year to 15.8 in his second and then 13.7 in his third.

So what’s next for Howard? He has the ability to opt out in July, and it’s extremely likely he will do so. Yet no one considers him a top free agent target, with Kevin Durant, LeBron James (also option), Andre Drummond (restricted) and even former Rockets point guard Mike Conley considered to be more desirable.  With that in mind, we take a look at the best options for Dwight as he looks to get his career back on track.

1) The Houston Rockets

The first option, of course, is the Rockets, who would like to have him back and can pay him the most money. Mike D’Antoni is now in place as their head coach, and there’s a chance that he could have the same kind of impact on Dwight as he had on Amar’e Stoudemire, who was a force to be reckoned with in D’Antoni’s offense in Phoenix. That’s a stretch, though, as D’Antoni couldn’t squeeze that kind of play out of Dwight when they were both with the Lakers. Of course, there’s still the matter of Harden’s lack of team play, but the bigger issue is at point guard. The Suns had one of the best floor leaders of all time in Steve Nash, and no matter who the Rockets sign or acquire this offseason they will not have a Nash-esque floor leader when the ball goes up on the 2016-17 season. What’s most likely is that Dwight will leave $23.2 million on the table in Houston and take radically less to play elsewhere.

2) The Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was less than impressed when Howard refused to even meet with the Mavs before singing with the Rockets. A strong argument could be made that the Mavs were closer to competing for a championship with Dwight in the mix than Houston was. The aforementioned Parsons has been in Dallas and still recruiting his friend, as he did in Houston three years ago. More importantly, for Dwight to return to prominence he has to change his game and there is no one better equipped to do that than Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. No coach in the league is as good at analyzing a player’s strengths and weaknesses and using that analysis to maximize their effectiveness. He would ask a lot of Dwight, both on the court, in practice and in the locker room. He would demand that Dwight put himself second, become a good teammate and transform his game to be more than a dunker. He would demand that Dwight play hard on both ends of the court regardless of his touches. He would also make sure Dwight got plenty of touches in the right places. Like Houston, Dallas offers tax incentives that add to their overall attractiveness for a free agent. The Mavs aren’t contenders with Dwight in the mix, but they are far better than the Rockets would be with D2 back in uniform.

3) The New York Knicks

Most recently the Knicks have emerged as strong suitors for Dwight, and they have a solid case to make. Carmelo is still in his prime and one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA. He isn’t quite as inattentive to the defensive end as Harden, and he is a bit more willing to pass than Houston’s black hole. Derrick Rose is not the player he was before the knee injuries, but he is still a very capable floor leader and would make sure Dwight got plenty of looks right at the rim. Kristaps Pozingis had a stellar season and is reminiscent of the power forwards who benefitted from playing alongside Dwight in Orlando. The Knicks can also bring back elite shooter Arron Afflalo, giving Dwight plenty of options on the perimeter and therefore a little space to operate in the paint. Of course, there are issues in New York, too. If Dwight can’t get his attitude right or get his game back, he would struggle under the media scrutiny that comes from playing in the NBA’s largest media market. If Rose continues to struggle, the Knicks can’t just rely on Dwight or Carmelo to carry them. Finally, if Carmelo doesn’t play enough defense or pass enough for Dwight, their locker room will implode. It’s not a perfect fit, but there is interesting potential in New York.

At the end of the day, for Dwight to get his game back on track and return to the ranks of the NBA’s elite, he’s going to have to put his ego aside and start fresh. It’s going to take the right environment, the right coach, the right co-stars for that to happen, and the one place where all of those factors exist is in Dallas. The Mavs have had trouble landing their free agent targets, but there are plenty of reasons why they should land this one. It’s not a championship waiting to happen, but there are enough intangibles to make Dallas worth watching with D12 in the mix.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sustaining a Revolution

          At this moment, all across America, there is a revolution going on. If you don’t

believe it, just ask anyone wearing a hat, shirt or button bearing the name Bernie

Sanders. What they’re calling a revolution is really more like a revolt against the

super-rich who call the shots in America’s version of democracy, which is really

nothing of the sort. At worst, America is a fascist nation; at best, it operates under a

sort of pseudo-socialism where the middle class supports the poor and the rich bear

no responsibility to anyone.

          Makes sense to stage a revolution, right? It’s not fair for one percent of a country’s

population to hold 90 percent of the nation’s wealth, especially when that came

about because they bought the necessary lawmakers to assure that it would.

Problem is, it’s not really a revolution. Not really. The masses who are turning out to

cheer on Sanders are supporting just one man, and that man can’t possibly bring

about any substantial change to the status quo in Washington D.C. no matter what

he does. Just ask Barack Obama.

           We witnessed a similar phenomenon when Obama began his campaign to be

President by talking about changing Washington in most of the same ways that

Sanders is now igniting crowds by discussing. Now we are in Obama’s final year as

President, and while the tone and manor of the presidency is blissfully different

from the George W. Bush years, nothing has changed substantially.

          The rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, campaign finance

continues to be little more than the outright purchase of elected officials by the

uber-rich, we continue to allow industries to pollute at will and push the planet

closer and closer to a condition that will not sustain human life . . .and on and on.

          It takes more than one man . . .one person . . .to bring about any substantial

change, no matter how popular that person might be.

          It’s going to take a coalition to change Washington and the status quo of

American politics. It’s going to take a team of leaders running for Senate and

House seats in conjunction with a visionary leader like Obama or Sanders to

spearhead the effort from the only podium everyone really pays attention to: the

presidential candidate podium.

          What it’s going to take to bring back the American dream of equal

opportunity for all and a truer version of democracy is a coalition not unlike the

Marvel Superhero Avengers or the DC Comics Justice League. It takes an entire

team espousing the values Bernie Sanders embrace, the most important of which

is arguably campaign finance reform. After all, if our elected officials answer to large

corporations instead of the people who elected them, what we have is not a democracy

but the textbook definition of fascism.

          The presidential platform is interesting, and the person elected certainly wields a

great deal of power over a wide range of areas. The power to change the way

Washington politics works, however, can only be claimed by a large coalition of like-

minded candidates who work together to bring about such change.

          For that kind of coalition to come about, it’s going to take a huge majority of people

who don’t just attend rallies for volunteer in droves for presidential candidates. It’s

going to take a movement that encompasses all elections, from local lawmakers to

national and everything in between. It’s going to take sustained energy, passion and

enthusiasm across a the country, a movement that works tirelessly all year every

year for America to really evolve beyond the corporate fascism that has wound its

roots around and throughout the entire political system.

          Until that happens, people like Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama will continue to

inspire millions but fall well short of their ambitious goals.

          What can those who consider themselves to be part of the Sanders revolution do?

First and foremost, they have to vote. Being excited and attending rallies is cool, but if

you don't bother to show up at the ballot box you might as well have been sitting at home

watching reality TV and sucking down a margarita. Second, be sure the candidates you're

voting for represent - or at least claim to represent the same standards that make you

excited about Bernie. Finally, once you vote, hold those representatives accountable by

following their actions taken on your behalf. When they deviate from the path they promised

while campaigning, call and/or email their offices and demand to know why they deviated.

          It's not enough to start a revolution; you have to participate and see it through

to the very end.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trumping the Republican Agenda

For the past decade or so the Republican Party has been working hard to procure permanent Republican districts all around the United States. No, they haven’t been doing it in the traditional way, which involves listening to constituents, educating them on the tough issues and thereby gaining their trust and their votes. Instead Republicans have been gerrymandering districts to slice up blue areas and lump them in with predominantly red areas, and when that hasn’t worked they have targeted demographics that typically vote Democratic and made it as difficult as possible for them to vote.

Republicans have worked hard to prevent college students from being able to utilize absentee ballots while away at college. They have also passed bills that disallow student IDs as valid forms of identification. One New Hampshire lawmaker – State House leader Bill O’Brien – was even caught on tape admitting that his bill that would have banned out-of-state students from voting was designed specifically to stop students from “basically doing what I did when I was a kid: voting as a liberal.”

The GOP has also been working to prevent the poor – who benefit the most from Democratic policies – from voting. They generally do it under the banner of preventing voter fraud, but by requiring a valid driver’s license they do not impact illegal votes nearly as much as they do the poor, many of whom cannot afford to own a car and therefore do not need a driver’s license. To make matters worse, they have also made a habit of closing voting locations in poorer areas, meaning people without cars have a harder time getting to their ballot boxes.

For the record, in the last presidential election illegal immigrants attempting to vote comprised less than one-hundredth of one percent of the votes cast. The real issue is not prohibiting illegal residents from voting; the real issue is trying to find ways to keep Democratic bases from casting votes.

Considering the great lengths the GOP went to as they attempted to prevent Barrack Obama from being elected President of the United States, it’s astounding that Obama is finishing up his second term in the job.

This time around the same machinery that worked tirelessly to prevent an Obama presidency is in high gear trying to prevent his heir apparent – Bernie Sanders – from taking a turn in the Oval Office. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, their strategy may well backfire on them this time.

Sanders has an even more Progressive agenda than Obama, and Wall Street executives are busier than ever writing checks and holding fundraisers for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to try and combat the movement that is powering Sanders’ campaign. Trouble is, the Republicans have not put forward a candidate that excites the base that their party has spent so much time chiseling out for themselves. Conservative Christians aren’t interested in the morally reckless Trump, and the one-issue voters can’t find themselves in his contradictory rhetoric, either. I have some friends who only vote based on one issue and they say they would rather not vote than cast a ballot in support of Trump.

That got me thinking.

When asked about how he would advance his Progressive agenda with a Congress that does nothing but block anything and everything the President attempts to accomplish, he points out that if he is elected President it will mean that a massive groundswell of Progressive voters have shown up. It’s reasonable to believe, then, that the makeup of Congress will have also shifted to support that same agenda.

It can only help that the typical one-issue voters, who invariably vote for the Republican ticket, are thinking about staying home on Election Day. It may be that none of the right wing’s voter suppression measures are as effective in keeping voters away as their own choice for Republican nominee.

The most honest way to run for President of the United States is to stand before your audience, state your vision for the country and explain why your vision is the best and how you plan to implement it. This way of running for President is so rare that many of you scoffed at the seeming naïveté of that statement. It’s rare for a political candidate to stand before crowds of people with different backgrounds and make the case for the same agenda day after day, but in the Presidential Election of 2016, much as in 2008 and 2012, there is such a candidate.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t change his tune, and his vision for America is consistent with the Progressive agenda he has fought for throughout his run as the longest-tenured Independent in U.S. congressional history. There is absolutely no ambiguity about what you get when you throw your support to Sanders: a hard-working man of the people who will fight for the underdog with ever fiber of his being.

As for the Republicans and their exhaustive voter suppression efforts, making Donald Trump the nominee might just be the ultimate suppression tool.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Is Bi-Partisanship Possible Any More?

These days the idea of Republicans and Democrats working together to solve the problems facing the United States seems to have gone the way of the do-do. President Obama could find the cure for cancer and Republicans in Congress would block it just to spite him. It's an incredible place to be considering Obama essentially launched his bid for the presidency with a DNC speech in which he pointed out that we are not the red states and the blue states, but rather the United States of America.

What we have in Washington is a complete refusal to compromise, and the entire basis of the separation of powers into three branches of government was to ensure and even force compromise. When one party refuses to compromise they are essentially in breach of the contract that founding fathers made with the people of America when they wrote the Constitution in the first place.

What follows is a proposal that is designed to garner bi-partisan support, even in an era where such a thing is practically unheard of.

One of the biggest issues facing America is unemployment, and while digging into the root causes can be instructive, that isn't the point here. A common Republican talking point is that America is paying out too much money to people who aren't working, while Democrats are typically in favor of giving the unemployed a check, even when they are perfectly capable of earning a living for themselves.

Last year there were a number of companies in Dallas, Texas in need of employees that they weren't able to find. UPS, example, actually started missing guaranteed delivery times because they didn't have enough people to deliver them and no one else was applying. We're talking about a company that, according to its website, is registered with 45 different employment agencies.

The unemployment rate in Dallas is currently 3.8%, meaning approximately 48,000 of Dallas' 1.25 million residents is currently in need of work. Granted, some are disabled, but the vast majority of those unemployed folks are very capable of working. Even a minimum wage job pays more than unemployment, which could be as low as $65 a week for someone who earns $3,000 a month. For more on how Texas calculates your unemployment benefit, click here.

How do we connect the 48,000 unemployed people in Dallas with companies in need of their services? Why not make it a function of the city's unemployment division? Here's how that might work:

1) Companies with job openings could register with the office of unemployment, with each job opening including a list of qualifications and training information.

2) When people apply for unemployment, they would immediately begin taking part in something of a matchmaking service with the unemployment office.

3) Rather than just handing out a check, the unemployment division would start making connections between those who are unemployed and the companies who need help. They could do this independently, or - perhaps to meet the demands of a Republican "small government" mentality - they could work in conjunction with the many unemployment agencies in town.

4) Corporations stand to gain a great deal by investing in the process of educating new workers in their own specialized way, potentially gaining productive long-term employees in the bargain.

There are plenty of details to work out, many of which could be the subject of compromises between the two political parties that would be working to solve the problem of unemployment. At the end of the day, there is enormous potential for a bi-partisan option that both reduces the amount of the city's budget currently being laid out for unemployment and does so without increasing the size of the government. Democrats are happy because people are going back to work, Republicans are happy because less money us being paid out to the unemployed.

Bi-partisan efforts are becoming fewer and farther between in America, where vitriol and bickering have replaced the spirit of compromise first envisioned by the authors of our country's Constitution. Still, with a little cooperation it's still very possible for the two sides of government to come together and work out solutions that are agreeable to both sides and also solve major problems for the people who vote them into office.


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